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VirTect: a computational method for detecting virus species from RNA-Seq and its application in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

By Atlas Khan, Qian Liu, Xuelian Chen, Yunjing Zeng, Andres Stucky, Parish P. Sedghizadeh, Daniel Adelpour, Xi Zhang, Kai Wang, Jiang F. Zhong

Posted 26 Feb 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/272278

Next generation sequencing (NGS) provides an opportunity to detect viral species from RNA-seq data on human tissues, but existing computational approaches do not perform optimally on clinical samples. We developed a bioinformatics method called VirTect for detecting viruses in neoplastic human tissues using RNA-seq data. Here, we used VirTect to analyze RNA-seq data from 363 HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma) patients and identified 22 HPV-induced HNSCCs. These predictions were validated by manual review of pathology reports on histopathologic specimens. Compared to two existing prediction methods, VirusFinder and VirusSeq, VirTect demonstrated superior performance with many fewer false positives and false negatives. The majority of HPV carcinogenesis studies thus far have been performed on cervical cancer and generalized to HNSCC. Our results suggest that HPV-induced HNSCC involves unique mechanisms of carcinogenesis, so understanding these molecular mechanisms will have a significant impact on therapeutic approaches and outcomes. In summary, VirTect can be an effective solution for the detection of viruses with NGS data, and can facilitate the clinicopathologic characterization of various types of cancers with broad applications for oncology.

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