Background: Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has profoundly changed the approach to genetic/genomic research. Particularly, the clinical utility of NGS in detecting mutations associated with disease risk has contributed to the development of effective therapeutic strategies. Recently, comprehensive analysis of somatic genetic mutations by NGS has also been used as a new approach for controlling the quality of cell substrates for manufacturing biopharmaceuticals. However, the quality evaluation of cell substrates by NGS largely depends on the limit of detection (LOD) for rare somatic mutations. The purpose of this study was to develop a simple method for evaluating the ability of whole-exome sequencing (WES) by NGS to detect mutations with low allele frequency. To estimate the LOD of WES for low-frequency somatic mutations, we repeatedly and independently performed WES of a reference genomic DNA using the same NGS platform and assay design. LOD was defined as the allele frequency with a relative standard deviation (RSD) value of 30% and was estimated by a moving average curve of the relation between RSD and allele frequency. Results: Allele frequencies of 20 mutations in the reference material that had been pre-validated by droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) were obtained from 5, 15, 30, or 40 G base pair (Gbp) sequencing data per run. There was a significant association between the allele frequencies measured by WES and those pre-validated by ddPCR, whose p-value decreased as the sequencing data size increased. By this method, the LOD of allele frequency in WES with the sequencing data of 15 Gbp or more was estimated to be between 5 and 10%. Conclusions: For properly interpreting the WES data of somatic genetic mutations, it is necessary to have a cutoff threshold of low allele frequencies. The in-house LOD estimated by the simple method shown in this study provides a rationale for setting the cutoff.
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