Tissue-specific cell-free DNA degradation quantifies circulating tumor DNA burden

Profiling of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) may offer a non-invasive approach to monitor disease progression. Here, we develop a quantitative method, exploiting local tissue-specific cell-free DNA (cfDNA) degradation patterns, that accurately estimates ctDNA burden independent of genomic aberrations. Nucleosome-dependent cfDNA degradation at promoters and first exon-intron junctions is strongly associated with differential transcriptional activity in tumors and blood.


Fig: Overview of approach.

A quantitative model, based on just 6 regulatory regions, could accurately predict ctDNA levels in colorectal cancer patients. Strikingly, a model restricted to blood-specific regulatory regions could predict ctDNA levels across both colorectal and breast cancer patients. Using compact targeted sequencing (<25 kb) of predictive regions, we demonstrate how the approach could enable quantitative low-cost tracking of ctDNA dynamics and disease progression.

Zhu, G., Guo, Y.A., Ho, D. et al. Tissue-specific cell-free DNA degradation quantifies circulating tumor DNA burden. Nat Commun12, 2229 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22463-y

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