Background: Missense (amino-acid changing) variants found in cancer predisposition genes often create difficulties when clinically interpreting genetic testing results. Although bioinformatics has developed approaches to predicting the impact of these variants, many of these approaches have not been readily applicable in the clinical setting. Bioinformatics approaches for predicting the impact of these variants have not yet found their footing in clinical practice because 1) interpreting the medical relevance of predictive scores is difficult; 2) the relationship between bioinformatics "predictors" (sequence conservation, protein structure) and cancer susceptibility is not understood.
Methodology/principal findings: We present a computational method that produces a probabilistic likelihood ratio predictive of whether a missense variant impairs protein function. We apply the method to a tumor suppressor gene, BRCA2, whose loss of function is important to cancer susceptibility. Protein likelihood ratios are computed for 229 unclassified variants found in individuals from high-risk breast/ovarian cancer families. We map the variants onto a protein structure model, and suggest that a cluster of predicted deleterious variants in the BRCA2 OB1 domain may destabilize BRCA2 and a protein binding partner, the small acidic protein DSS1. We compare our predictions with variant "re-classifications" provided by Myriad Genetics, a biotechnology company that holds the patent on BRCA2 genetic testing in the U.S., and with classifications made by an established medical genetics model . Our approach uses bioinformatics data that is independent of these genetics-based classifications and yet shows significant agreement with them. Preliminary results indicate that our method is less likely to make false positive errors than other bioinformatics methods, which were designed to predict the impact of missense mutations in general.
Conclusions/significance: Missense mutations are the most common disease-producing genetic variants. We present a fast, scalable bioinformatics method that integrates information about protein sequence, conservation, and structure in a likelihood ratio that can be integrated with medical genetics likelihood ratios. The protein likelihood ratio, together with medical genetics likelihood ratios, can be used by clinicians and counselors to communicate the relevance of a VUS to the individual who has that VUS. The approach described here is generalizable to regions of any tumor suppressor gene that have been structurally determined by X-ray crystallography or for which a protein homology model can be built.
Keywords: bioinformatics and computational biology; breast cancer; cancer susceptibility genes; missense variants; mutagenesis; risk assessment.