Exome sequencing explained: a practical guide to its clinical application

Brief Funct Genomics. 2016 Sep;15(5):374-84. doi: 10.1093/bfgp/elv054. Epub 2015 Dec 9.


Next-generation sequencing has catapulted healthcare into a revolutionary genomics era. One such technology, whole-exome sequencing, which targets the protein-coding regions of the genome, has proven success in identifying new causal mutations for diseases of previously unknown etiology. With a successful diagnostic rate approaching 25% for rare disease in recent studies, its clinical utility is becoming increasingly popular. However, the interpretation of whole-exome sequencing data requires expertise in genomic informatics and clinical medicine to ensure the accurate and safe reporting of findings back to the bedside. This is challenged by vast amounts of sequencing data harbouring approximately 25 000 variants per sequenced individual. Computational strategies and fastidious filtering frameworks are thus required to extricate candidate variants in a sea of common polymorphisms. Once prioritized, identified variants require intensive scrutiny at a biological level, and require judicious assessment alongside the clinical phenotype. In the final step, all evidence is collated and documented alongside pathogenicity guidelines to produce an exome report that returns to the clinic. This review provides a practical guide for clinicians and genomic informaticians on the clinical application of whole-exome sequencing. We address sequencing capture and methodology, quality control parameters at different stages of sequencing analysis and propose an exome data filtering strategy that includes primary filtering (for the removal of probable benign variants) and secondary filtering for the prioritization of remaining candidates.

Keywords: clinical genomics; next-generation sequencing; whole-exome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exome*
  • Genomics / methods*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*