Limitations of Detecting Genetic Variants from the RNA Sequencing Data in Tissue and Fine-Needle Aspiration Samples.

TitleLimitations of Detecting Genetic Variants from the RNA Sequencing Data in Tissue and Fine-Needle Aspiration Samples.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsKaya C, Dorsaint P, Mercurio S, Campbell AM, Eng KWha, Nikiforova MN, Elemento O, Nikiforov YE, Sboner A
Date Published2021 04

Genetic profiling of resected tumor or biopsy samples is increasingly used for cancer diagnosis and therapy selection for thyroid and other cancer types. Although mutations occur in cell DNA and are typically detected using DNA sequencing, recent attempts focused on detecting pathogenic variants from RNA. The aim of this study was to determine the completeness of capturing mutations using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) in thyroid tissue and fine-needle aspiration (FNA) samples. To compare the detection rate of mutations between DNA sequencing and RNA-Seq, 35 tissue samples were analyzed in parallel by whole-exome DNA sequencing (WES) and whole-transcriptome RNA-Seq at two study sites. Then, DNA and RNA from 44 thyroid FNA samples and 47 tissue samples were studied using both targeted DNA sequencing and RNA-Seq. Of 162 genetic variants identified by WES of DNA in 35 tissue samples, 77 (48%) were captured by RNA-Seq, with a detection rate of 49% at site 1 and 46% at site 2 and no difference between thyroid and nonthyroid samples. Targeted DNA sequencing of 91 thyroid tissue and FNA samples detected 118 pathogenic variants, of which 57 (48%) were identified by RNA-Seq. For DNA variants present at >10% allelic frequency (AF), the detection rate of RNA-Seq was 62%, and for those at low (5-10%) AF, the detection rate of RNA-Seq was 7% ( < 0.0001). For common oncogenes ( and ), 94% of mutations present at >10% AF and 11% of mutations present at 5-10% AF were captured by RNA-Seq. As expected, none of promoter mutations were identified by RNA-Seq. The rate of mutation detection by RNA-Seq was lower in FNA samples than in tissue samples (32% vs. 49%,  = 0.02). In this study, RNA-Seq analysis detected only 46-49% of pathogenic variants identifiable by sequencing of tumor DNA. Detection of mutations by RNA-Seq was more successful for mutations present at a high allelic frequency. Mutations were more often missed by RNA-Seq when present at low frequency or when tested on FNA samples. All mutations were missed by RNA-Seq. These data suggest that RNA-Seq does not detect a significant proportion of clinically relevant mutations and should be used with caution in clinical practice for detecting DNA mutations.

Alternate JournalThyroid
PubMed ID32948110
PubMed Central IDPMC8195874
Grant ListR01 CA194547 / CA / NCI NIH HHS / United States
UL1 TR002384 / TR / NCATS NIH HHS / United States
Related Faculty: 
Andrea Sboner, Ph.D.

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