ClonEvol: clonal ordering and visualization in cancer sequencing

Ann Oncol. 2017 Dec 1;28(12):3076-3082. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdx517.


Background: Reconstruction of clonal evolution is critical for understanding tumor progression and implementing personalized therapies. This is often done by clustering somatic variants based on their cellular prevalence estimated via bulk tumor sequencing of multiple samples. The clusters, consisting of the clonal marker variants, are then ordered based on their estimated cellular prevalence to reconstruct clonal evolution trees, a process referred to as 'clonal ordering'. However, cellular prevalence estimate is confounded by statistical variability and errors in sequencing/data analysis, and therefore inhibits accurate reconstruction of the clonal evolution. This problem is further complicated by intra- and inter-tumor heterogeneity. Furthermore, the field lacks a comprehensive visualization tool to facilitate the interpretation of complex clonal relationships. To address these challenges we developed ClonEvol, a unified software tool for clonal ordering, visualization, and interpretation.

Materials and methods: ClonEvol uses a bootstrap resampling technique to estimate the cellular fraction of the clones and probabilistically models the clonal ordering constraints to account for statistical variability. The bootstrapping allows identification of the sample founding- and sub-clones, thus enabling interpretation of clonal seeding. ClonEvol automates the generation of multiple widely used visualizations for reconstructing and interpreting clonal evolution.

Results: ClonEvol outperformed three of the state of the art tools (LICHeE, Canopy and PhyloWGS) for clonal evolution inference, showing more robust error tolerance and producing more accurate trees in a simulation. Building upon multiple recent publications that utilized ClonEvol to study metastasis and drug resistance in solid cancers, here we show that ClonEvol rediscovered relapsed subclones in two published acute myeloid leukemia patients. Furthermore, we demonstrated that through noninvasive monitoring ClonEvol recapitulated the emerging subclones throughout metastatic progression observed in the tumors of a published breast cancer patient.

Conclusions: ClonEvol has broad applicability for longitudinal monitoring of clonal populations in tumor biopsies, or noninvasively, to guide precision medicine.

Availability: ClonEvol is written in R and is available at

Keywords: cancer evolution; clonal evolution; clonal evolution visualization; clonality analysis; next-generation sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Clonal Evolution*
  • Clone Cells
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • Precision Medicine