HLAforest – for HLA Haplotyping from RNA-Seq Data using Hierarchical Read Weighting

Correctly matching the HLA haplotypes of donor and recipient is essential to the success of allogenic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Current HLA typing methods rely on targeted testing of recognized antigens or sequences. Despite advances in Next Generation Sequencing, general high throughput transcriptome sequencing is currently underutilized for HLA haplotyping due to the central difficulty in aligning sequences within this highly variable region.

Now, researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz have devloped the method, HLAforest, that can accurately predict HLA haplotype by hierarchically weighting reads and using an iterative, greedy, top down pruning technique. HLAforest correctly predicts >99% of allele group level (2 digit) haplotypes and 93% of peptide-level (4 digit) haplotypes of the most diverse HLA genes in simulations with read lengths and error rates modeling currently available sequencing technology. The method is very robust to sequencing error and can predict 99% of allele-group level haplotypes with substitution rates as high as 8.8%. When applied to data generated from a trio of cell lines, HLAforest corroborated PCR-based HLA haplotyping methods and accurately predicted 16/18 (89%) major class I genes for a daughter-father-mother trio at the peptide level. Major class II genes were predicted with 100% concordance between the daughter-father-mother trio. In fifty HapMap samples with paired end reads just 37 nucleotides long, HLAforest predicted 96.5% of allele group level HLA haplotypes correctly and 83% of peptide level haplotypes correctly. In sixteen RNA-Seq samples with limited coverage across HLA genes, HLAforest predicted 97.7% of allele group level haplotypes and 85% of peptide level haplotypes correctly.


Kim HJ, Pourmand N. (2013) HLA Haplotyping from RNA-seq Data Using Hierarchical Read Weighting. PLoS One 8(6), e67885. [article]

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