June 1, 2021  |  

Allele-level sequencing and phasing of full-length HLA class I and II genes using SMRT Sequencing technology

The three classes of genes that comprise the MHC gene family are actively involved in determining donor-recipient compatibility for organ transplant, as well as susceptibility to autoimmune diseases via cross-reacting immunization. Specifically, Class I genes HLA-A, -B, -C, and class II genes HLA-DR, -DQ and -DP are considered medically important for genetic analysis to determine histocompatibility. They are highly polymorphic and have thousands of alleles implicated in disease resistance and susceptibility. The importance of full-length HLA gene sequencing for genotyping, detection of null alleles, and phasing is now widely acknowledged. While DNA-sequencing-based HLA genotyping has become routine, only 7% of the HLA genes have been characterized by allele-level sequencing, while 93% are still defined by partial sequences. The gold-standard Sanger sequencing technology is being quickly replaced by second-generation, high- throughput sequencing methods due to its inability to generate unambiguous phased reads from heterozygous alleles. However, although these short, high-throughput, clonal sequencing methods are better at heterozygous allele detection, they are inadequate at generating full-length haploid gene sequences. Thus, full-length gene sequencing from an enhancer-promoter region to a 3’UTR that includes phasing information without the need for imputation still remains a technological challenge. The best way to overcome these challenges is to sequence these genes with a technology that is clonal in nature and has the longest possible read lengths. We have employed Single Molecule Real-Time (SMRT) sequencing technology from Pacific Biosciences for sequencing full-length HLA class I and II genes.


June 1, 2021  |  

A novel analytical pipeline for de novo haplotype phasing and amplicon analysis using SMRT Sequencing technology.

While the identification of individual SNPs has been readily available for some time, the ability to accurately phase SNPs and structural variation across a haplotype has been a challenge. With individual reads of an average length of 9 kb (P5-C3), and individual reads beyond 30 kb in length, SMRT Sequencing technology allows the identification of mutation combinations such as microdeletions, insertions, and substitutions without any predetermined reference sequence. Long- amplicon analysis is a novel protocol that identifies and reports the abundance of differing clusters of sequencing reads within a single library. Graphs generated via hierarchical clustering of individual sequencing reads are used to generate Markov models representing the consensus sequence of individual clusters found to be significantly different. Long-amplicon analysis is capable of differentiating between underlying sequences that are 99.9% similar, which is suitable for haplotyping and differentiating pseudogenes from coding transcripts. This protocol allows for the identification of structural variation in the MUC5AC gene sequence, despite the presence of a gap in the current genome assembly, and can also be used for HLA haplotyping. Clustering can also been applied to identify full length transcripts for the purpose of estimating consensus sequences and enumerating isoform types. Long-amplicon analysis allows for the elucidation of complex regions otherwise missed by other sequencing technologies, which may contribute to the diagnosis and understanding of otherwise complex diseases.


June 1, 2021  |  

Genomic DNA sequences of HLA class I alleles generated using multiplexed barcodes and SMRT DNA Sequencing technology.

Allelic-level resolution HLA typing is known to improve survival prognoses post Unrelated Donor (UD) Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT). Currently, many commonly used HLA typing methodologies are limited either due to the fact that ambiguity cannot be resolved or that they are not amenable to high-throughput laboratories. Pacific Biosciences’ Single Molecule Real-Time (SMRT) DNA sequencing technology enables sequencing of single molecules in isolation and has read-length capabilities to enable whole gene sequencing for HLA. DNA barcode technology labels samples with unique identifiers that can be traced throughout the sequencing process. The use of DNA barcodes means that multiple samples can be sequenced in a single experiment but data can still be attributed to the correct sample. Here we describe the results of experiments that use DNA barcodes to facilitate sequencing of multiple samples for full-length HLA class I genes (known as multiplexing).


June 1, 2021  |  

Long Amplicon Analysis: Highly accurate, full-length, phased, allele-resolved gene sequences from multiplexed SMRT Sequencing data.

The correct phasing of genetic variations is a key challenge for many applications of DNA sequencing. Allele-level resolution is strongly preferred for histocompatibility sequencing where recombined genes can exhibit different compatibilities than their parents. In other contexts, gene complementation can provide protection if deleterious mutations are found on only one allele of a gene. These problems are especially pronounced in immunological domains given the high levels of genetic diversity and recombination seen in regions like the Major Histocompatibility Complex. A new tool for analyzing Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) Sequencing data – Long Amplicon Analysis (LAA) – can generate highly accurate, phased and full-length consensus sequences for multiple genes in a single sequencing run.


June 1, 2021  |  

Evaluation of multiplexing strategies for HLA genotyping using PacBio Sequencing technology.

Fully phased allele-level sequencing of highly polymorphic HLA genes is greatly facilitated by SMRT Sequencing technology. In the present work, we have evaluated multiple DNA barcoding strategies for multiplexing several loci from multiple individuals, using three different tagging methods. Specifically MHC class I genes HLA-A, -B, and –C were indexed via DNA Barcodes by either tailed primers or barcoded SMRTbell adapters. Eight different 16-bp barcode sequences were used in symmetric & asymmetric pairing. Eight DNA barcoded adapters in symmetric pairing were independently ligated to a pool of HLA-A, -B and –C for eight different individuals, one at a time and pooled for sequencing on a single SMRT Cell. Amplicons generated from barcoded primers were pooled upfront for library generation. Eight symmetric barcoded primers were generated for HLA class I genes. These primers facilitated multiplexing of 8 samples and also allowed generation of unique asymmetric pairings for simultaneous amplification from 28 reference genomic DNA samples. The data generated from all 3 methods was analyzed using LAA protocol in SMRT analysis V2.3. Consensus sequences generated were typed using GenDx NGS engine HLA-typing software.


June 1, 2021  |  

Multiplexing human HLA class I & II genotyping with DNA barcode adapters for high throughput research.

Human MHC class I genes HLA-A, -B, -C, and class II genes HLA-DR, -DP and -DQ, play a critical role in the immune system as major factors responsible for organ transplant rejection. The have a direct or linkage-based association with several diseases, including cancer and autoimmune diseases, and are important targets for clinical and drug sensitivity research. HLA genes are also highly polymorphic and their diversity originates from exonic combinations as well as recombination events. A large number of new alleles are expected to be encountered if these genes are sequenced through the UTRs. Thus allele-level resolution is strongly preferred when sequencing HLA genes. Pacific Biosciences has developed a method to sequence the HLA genes in their entirety within the span of a single read taking advantage of long read lengths (average >10 kb) facilitated by SMRT technology. A highly accurate consensus sequence (=99.999 or QV50 demonstrated) is generated for each allele in a de novo fashion by our SMRT Analysis software. In the present work, we have combined this imputation-free, fully phased, allele-specific consensus sequence generation workflow and a newly developed DNA-barcode-tagged SMRTbell sample preparation approach to multiplex 96 individual samples for sequencing all of the HLA class I and II genes. Commercially available NGS-go reagents for full-length HLA class I and relevant exons of class II genes were amplified for hi-resolution HLA sequencing. The 96 samples included 72 that are part of UCLA reference panel and had pre-typing information available for 2 fields, based on gold standard SBT methods. SMRTbell adapters with 16 bp barcode tags were ligated to long amplicons in symmetric pairing. PacBio sequencing was highly effective in generating accurate, phased sequences of full-length alleles of HLA genes. In this work we demonstrate scalability of HLA sequencing using off the shelf assays for research applications to find biological significance in full-length sequencing.


June 1, 2021  |  

Full-length sequencing of HLA class I genes of more than 1000 samples provides deep insights into sequence variability

Aim: The vast majority of donor typing relies on sequencing exons 2 and 3 of HLA class I genes (HLA-A, -B, -C). With such an approach certain allele combinations do not result in the anticipated “high resolution” (G-code) typing, due to the lack of exon-phasing information. To resolve ambiguous typing results for a haplotype frequency project, we established a whole gene sequencing approach for HLA class I, facilitating also an estimation of the degree of sequence variability outside the commonly sequenced exons. Methods: Primers were developed flanking the UTR regions resulting in similar amplicon lengths of 4.2-4.4 kb. Using a 4-primer approach, secondary primers containing barcodes were combined with the gene specific primers to obtain barcoded full-gene amplicons in a single amplification step. Amplicons were pooled, purified, and ligated to SMRT bells (i.e. annealing points for sequencing primers) following standard protocols from Pacific Biosciences. Taking advantage of the SMRT chemistry, pools of 48-72 amplicons were sequenced full length and phased in single runs on a Pacific Biosciences RSII instrument. Demultiplexing was achieved using the SMRT portal. Sequence analysis was performed using NGSengine software (GenDx). Results: We successfully performed full-length gene sequencing of 1003 samples, harboring ambiguous typings of either HLA-A (n=46), HLA-B (n=304) or HLA-C (n=653). Despite the high per-read raw error rates typical for SMRT sequencing (~15%) the consensus sequence proved highly reliable. All consensus sequences for exons 2 and 3 were in full accordance with their MiSeq-derived sequences. Unambiguous allelic resolution was achieved for all samples. We observed novel intronic, exonic as well as UTR sequence variations for many of the alleles covered by our data set. This included sequences of 600 individuals with HLA-C*07:01/C*07:02 genotype revealing the extent of sequence variation outside the exons 2 and 3. Conclusion: Here we present a whole gene amplification and sequencing approach for HLA class I genes. The maturity of this approach was demonstrated by sequencing more than 1000 samples, achieving fully phased allelic sequences. Extensive sequencing of one common allele combination hints at the yet to discover diversity of the HLA system outside the commonly analyzed exons.


June 1, 2021  |  

Access full spectrum of polymorphisms in HLA class I & II genes, without imputation for disease association and evolutionary research.

MHC class I and II genes are critically monitored by high-resolution sequencing for organ transplant decisions due to their role in GVHD. Their direct or linkage-based causal association, have increased their prominence as targets for drug sensitivity, autoimmune, cancer and infectious disease research. Monitoring HLA genes can however be tricky due to their highly polymorphic nature. Allele-level resolution is thus strongly preferred. However, most studies were historically focused on peptide binding domains of the HLA genes, due to technological challenges. As a result knowledge about the functional role of polymorphisms outside of exons 2 and 3 of HLA genes was rather limited. There are also relatively few full-length gene references currently available in the IMGT HLA database. This made it difficult to quickly adopt high-throughput reference-reliant methods for allele-level HLA sequencing. Increasing awareness regarding role of regulatory region polymorphisms of HLA genes in disease association1, nonetheless have brought about a revolution in full-length HLA gene sequencing. Researchers are now exploring ways to obtain complete information for HLA genes and integrate it with the current HLA database so it can be interpreted used by clinical researchers. We have explored advantages of SMRT Sequencing to obtain fully phased, allele-specific sequences of HLA class I and II genes for 96 samples using completely De novo consensus generation approach for imputation-free 4-field typing. With long read lengths (average >10 kb) and consensus accuracy exceeding 99.999% (Q50), a comprehensive snapshot of variants in exons, introns and UTRs could be obtained for spectrum of polymorphisms in phase across SNP-poor regions. Such information can provide invaluable insights in future causality association and population diversity research.


June 1, 2021  |  

HLA variant identification techniques

The Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) genes located on chromosome 6 are responsible for regulating immune function via antigen presentation and are one of the determining factors for stem cell and organ transplantation compatibility. Additionally various alleles within this region have been implicated in autoimmune disorders, cancer, vaccine response and both non-infectious and infectious disease risk. The HLA region is highly variable; containing repetitive regions; and co-dominantly expressed genes. This complicates short read mapping and means that assessing the effect of variation within a gene requires full phase information to resolve haplotypes.One solution to the problem of HLA identification is the use of statistical inference to suggest the most likely diploid alleles given the genotypes observed. The assumption of this approach is the availability of an extensive reference panel. Whilst there exists good population genetics data for imputing European populations, there remains a paucity of information about variation in African populations. Filling this gap is one of the aims of the Genome Diversity in Africa Project and as a first step we are performing a pilot study to identify the optimal method for determining HLA type information for large numbers of samples from African populations.To that end we have obtained samples from 125 consented African participants selected from 5 populations across Africa (Morrocan, Ashanti, Igbo, Kalenjin, and Zulu). The methods included in our pilot study are Sanger sequencing (ABI), NGS on HiSeqX Ten platform (Illumina); long-range PCR combined with single molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing (PacBio); and for a subset of samples library preparation on GemCode Platform (10x Genomics), which delivers valuable long range contextual information, combined with Illumina NGS sequencing.Results from capillary sequencing suggests the presence of a minimum of two novel alleles. Long Range PCR have been performed initially on a subset of samples using both primers sourced from GenDX and designed as described in Shiina et al (2012). Initial results from both primer sets were promising on Promega DNA test samples but only the GenDX primers proved effective on the African samples, producing consistently PCR products of the expected size in the Igbo, Ashanti, Morrocan and Zulu samples. We will present early results from our evaluation of the different sequencing technologies


June 1, 2021  |  

Immune regions are no longer incomprehensible with SMRT Sequencing

The complex immune regions of the genome, including MHC and KIR, contain large copy number variants (CNVs), a high density of genes, hyper-polymorphic gene alleles, and conserved extended haplotypes (CEH) with enormous linkage disequilibrium (LDs). This level of complexity and inherent biases of short-read sequencing make it challenging for extracting immune region haplotype information from reference-reliant, shotgun sequencing and GWAS methods. As NGS based genome and exome sequencing and SNP arrays have become a routine for population studies, numerous efforts are being made for developing software to extract and or impute the immune gene information from these datasets. Despite these efforts, the fine mapping of causal variants of immune genes for their well-documented association with cancer, drug-induced hypersensitivity and immune-related diseases, has been slower than expected. This has in many ways limited our understanding of the mechanisms leading to immune disease. In the present work, we demonstrate the advantages of long reads delivered by SMRT Sequencing for assembling complete haplotypes of MHC and KIR gene clusters, as well as calling correct genotypes of genes comprised within them. All the genotype information is detected at allele- level with full phasing information across SNP-poor regions. Genotypes were called correctly from targeted gene amplicons, haplotypes, as well as from a completely assembled 5 Mb contig of the MHC region from a de novo assembly of whole genome shotgun data. De novo analysis pipeline used in all these approaches allowed for reference-free analysis without imputation, a key for interrogation without prior knowledge about ethnic backgrounds. These methods are thus easily adoptable for previously uncharacterized human or non-human species.


June 1, 2021  |  

Collection of major HLA allele sequences in Japanese population toward the precise NGS based HLA DNA typing at the field 4 level

We previously reported on the use of the Ion PGM next generation sequencing (NGS) platform to genotype HLA class I and class II genes by a super-high resolution, single-molecule, sequence-based typing (SS-SBT) method (Shiina et al. 2012). However, HLA alleles could not be assigned at the field 4 level at some HLA loci such as DQA1, DPA1 and DPB1 because the SNP and indel densities were too low to identify and separate both of the phases. In this regard, we have now added the single molecule, real-time (SMRT) DNA sequencer PacBio RS II method to our analysis in order to test whether it might determine the HLA allele sequences in some of the loci with which we previously had difficulties. In this study, we report on sequence-based genotyping of entire HLA gene sequences from the promoter-enhancer region to 3’UTR of the major HLA loci (A, B, C, DRB1, DRB345, DQA1, DQB1, DPA1 and DPB1) using 46 Japanese reference subjects who represented a distribution of more than 99.5% of the HLA alleles at each of the HLA loci and the PacBio RS II and Ion PGM systems.


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