June 1, 2021  |  

Detecting pathogenic structural variants with long-read PacBio SMRT Sequencing

Most of the base pairs that differ between two human genomes are in intermediate-sized structural variants (50 bp to 5 kb), which are too small to detect with array comparative genomic hybridization or optical mapping but too large to reliably discover with short-read DNA sequencing. Long-read sequencing with PacBio Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) Sequencing platforms fills this technology gap. PacBio SMRT Sequencing detects tens of thousands of structural variants in a human genome with approximately five times the sensitivity of short-read DNA sequencing. Effective application of PacBio SMRT Sequencing to detect structural variants requires quality bioinformatics tools that account for the characteristics of PacBio reads. To provide such a solution, we developed pbsv, a structural variant caller for PacBio reads that works as a chain of simple stages: 1) map reads to the reference genome, 2) identify reads with signatures of structural variation, 3) cluster nearby reads with similar signatures, 4) summarize each cluster into a consensus variant, and 5) filter for variants with sufficient read support. To evaluate the baseline performance of pbsv, we generated high coverage of a diploid human genome on the PacBio Sequel System, established a target set of structural variants, and then titrated to lower coverage levels. The false discovery rate for pbsv is low at all coverage levels. Sensitivity is high even at modest coverage: above 85% at 10-fold coverage and above 95% at 20-fold coverage. To assess the potential for PacBio SMRT Sequencing to identify pathogenic variants, we evaluated an individual with clinical symptoms suggestive of Carney complex for whom short-read whole genome sequencing was uninformative. The individual was sequenced to 9-fold coverage on the PacBio Sequel System, and structural variants were called with pbsv. Filtering for rare, genic structural variants left six candidates, including a heterozygous 2,184 bp deletion that removes the first coding exon of PRKAR1A. Null mutations in PRKAR1Acause autosomal dominant Carney complex, type 1. The variant was determined to be de novo, and it was classified as likely pathogenic based on ACMG standards and guidelines for variant interpretation. These case studies demonstrate the ability of pbsv to detect structural variants in low-coverage PacBio SMRT Sequencing and suggest the importance of considering structural variants in any study of human genetic variation.


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