iMapSplice – Alleviating reference bias through personalized RNA-seq alignment

Genomic variants in both coding and non-coding sequences can have functionally important and sometimes deleterious effects on exon splicing of gene transcripts. For transcriptome profiling using RNA-seq, the accurate alignment of reads across exon junctions is a critical step. Existing algorithms that utilize a standard reference genome as a template sometimes have difficulty in mapping reads that carry genomic variants. These problems can lead to allelic ratio biases and the failure to detect splice variants created by splice site polymorphisms.

To improve RNA-seq read alignment, University of Kentucky researchers have developed a novel approach called iMapSplice that enables personalized mRNA transcriptome profiling. The algorithm makes use of personal genomic information and performs an unbiased alignment towards genome indices carrying both reference and alternative bases. Importantly, this breaks the dependency on reference genome splice site dinucleotide motifs and enables iMapSplice to discover personal splice junctions created through splice site polymorphisms. The researchers report comparative analyses using a number of simulated and real datasets. Besides general improvements in read alignment and splice junction discovery, iMapSplice greatly alleviates allelic ratio biases and unravels many previously uncharacterized splice junctions created by splice site polymorphisms, with minimal overhead in computation time and storage.

An overview of iMapSplice algorithm


(A) An example illustrating the challenge when mapping a RNA-seq read to the reference genome in the presence of SNPs. (B) An example illustrating how iMapSplice algorithm may resolve spliced alignment with SNPs as well as the basic steps of the alignment.

Availability – Software download URL:

Liu X, MacLeod JN, Liu J (2018) iMapSplice: Alleviating reference bias through personalized RNA-seq alignment. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0201554. [article]

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