Nucleic Acids Res 2016 Feb 17;44(4):e38. Epub 2015 Nov 17.
Translational Bioinformatics, MedImmune, Gaithersburg, MD 20878, USA
Tumors are characterized by properties of genetic instability, heterogeneity, and significant oligoclonality. Elucidating this intratumoral heterogeneity is challenging but important. In this study, we propose a framework, BubbleTree, to characterize the tumor clonality using next generation sequencing (NGS) data. BubbleTree simultaneously elucidates the complexity of a tumor biopsy, estimating cancerous cell purity, tumor ploidy, allele-specific copy number, and clonality and represents this in an intuitive graph. We further developed a three-step heuristic method to automate the interpretation of the BubbleTree graph, using a divide-and-conquer strategy. In this study, we demonstrated the performance of BubbleTree with comparisons to similar commonly used tools such as THetA2, ABSOLUTE, AbsCN-seq and ASCAT, using both simulated and patient-derived data. BubbleTree outperformed these tools, particularly in identifying tumor subclonal populations and polyploidy. We further demonstrated BubbleTree's utility in tracking clonality changes from patients' primary to metastatic tumor and dating somatic single nucleotide and copy number variants along the tumor clonal evolution. Overall, the BubbleTree graph and corresponding model is a powerful approach to provide a comprehensive spectrum of the heterogeneous tumor karyotype in human tumors. BubbleTree is R-based and freely available to the research community (https://www.bioconductor.org/packages/release/bioc/html/BubbleTree.html).