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Title:Implications of non-uniqueness in phylogenetic deconvolution of bulk DNA samples of tumors
Author(s):Qi, Yuanyuan; Pradhan, Dikshant; El-Kebir, Mohammed
Intra-tumor heterogeneity
Inter-tumor heterogeneity
Somatic mutations
Single-nucleotide variant
Copy-number aberration
Structural variant
Abstract:Background Tumors exhibit extensive intra-tumor heterogeneity, the presence of groups of cellular populations with distinct sets of somatic mutations. This heterogeneity is the result of an evolutionary process, described by a phylogenetic tree. In addition to enabling clinicians to devise patient-specific treatment plans, phylogenetic trees of tumors enable researchers to decipher the mechanisms of tumorigenesis and metastasis. However, the problem of reconstructing a phylogenetic tree T given bulk sequencing data from a tumor is more complicated than the classic phylogeny inference problem. Rather than observing the leaves of T directly, we are given mutation frequencies that are the result of mixtures of the leaves of T. The majority of current tumor phylogeny inference methods employ the perfect phylogeny evolutionary model. The underlying PERFECT PHYLOGENY MIXTURE (PPM) combinatorial problem typically has multiple solutions.

Results We prove that determining the exact number of solutions to the PPM problem is #P-complete and hard to approximate within a constant factor. Moreover, we show that sampling solutions uniformly at random is hard as well. On the positive side, we provide a polynomial-time computable upper bound on the number of solutions and introduce a simple rejection-sampling based scheme that works well for small instances. Using simulated and real data, we identify factors that contribute to and counteract non-uniqueness of solutions. In addition, we study the sampling performance of current methods, identifying significant biases.

Conclusions Awareness of non-uniqueness of solutions to the PPM problem is key to drawing accurate conclusions in downstream analyses based on tumor phylogenies. This work provides the theoretical foundations for non-uniqueness of solutions in tumor phylogeny inference from bulk DNA samples.
Issue Date:2019
Rights Information:© The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-09-05

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