Evaluation of somatic copy number estimation tools for whole-exome sequencing data

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Abstract

Whole-exome sequencing (WES) has become a standard method for detecting genetic variants in human diseases. Although the primary use of WES data has been the identification of single nucleotide variations and indels, these data also offer a possibility of detecting copy number variations (CNVs) at high resolution. However, WES data have uneven read coverage along the genome owing to the target capture step, and the development of a robust WES-based CNV tool is challenging. Here, we evaluate six WES somatic CNV detection tools: ADTEx, CONTRA, Control-FREEC, EXCAVATOR, ExomeCNV and Varscan2. Using WES data from 50 kidney chromophobe, 50 bladder urothelial carcinoma, and 50 stomach adenocarcinoma patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas, we compared the CNV calls from the six tools with a reference CNV set that was identified by both single nucleotide polymorphism array 6.0 and whole-genome sequencing data. We found that these algorithms gave highly variable results: visual inspection reveals significant differences between the WES-based segmentation profiles and the reference profile, as well as among the WES-based profiles. Using a 50% overlap criterion, 13-77% of WES CNV calls were covered by CNVs from the reference set, up to 21% of the copy gains were called as losses or vice versa, and dramatic differences in CNV sizes and CNV numbers were observed. Overall, ADTEx and EXCAVATOR had the best performance with relatively high precision and sensitivity. We suggest that the current algorithms for somatic CNV detection from WES data are limited in their performance and that more robust algorithms are needed.

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