Analytical and Clinical Validation of Expressed Variants and Fusions From the Whole Transcriptome of Thyroid FNA Samples

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019 Sep 11;10:612. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2019.00612. eCollection 2019.


Introduction: The Afirma® Xpression Atlas (XA) detects gene variants and fusions in thyroid nodule FNA samples from a curated panel of 511 genes using whole-transcriptome RNA-sequencing. Its intended use is among cytologically indeterminate nodules that are Afirma GSC suspicious, Bethesda V/VI nodules, or known thyroid metastases. Here we report its analytical and clinical validation. Methods: DNA and RNA were purified from the same sample across 943 blinded FNAs and compared by multiple methodologies, including whole-transcriptome RNA-seq, targeted RNA-seq, and targeted DNA-seq. An additional 695 blinded FNAs were used to define performance for fusions between whole-transcriptome RNA-seq and targeted RNA-seq. We quantified the reproducibility of the whole-transcriptome RNA-seq assay across laboratories and reagent lots. Finally, variants and fusions were compared to histopathology results. Results: Of variants detected in DNA at 5 or 20% variant allele frequency, 74 and 88% were also detected by XA, respectively. XA variant detection was 89% when compared to an alternative RNA-based detection method. Low levels of expression of the DNA allele carrying the variant, compared with the wild-type allele, was found in some variants not detected by XA. 82% of gene fusions detected in a targeted RNA fusion assay were detected by XA. Conversely, nearly all variants or fusions detected by XA were confirmed by an alternative method. Analytical validation studies demonstrated high intra-plate reproducibility (89%-94%), inter-plate reproducibility (86-91%), and inter-lab accuracy (90%). Multiple variants and fusions previously described across the spectrum of thyroid cancers were identified by XA, including some with approved or investigational targeted therapies. Among 190 Bethesda III/IV nodules, the sensitivity of XA as a standalone test was 49%. Conclusion: When the Afirma Genomic Sequencing Classifier (GSC) is used first among Bethesda III/IV nodules as a rule-out test, XA supplements genomic insight among those that are GSC suspicious. Our data clinically and analytically validate XA for use among GSC suspicious, or Bethesda V/VI nodules. Genomic information provided by XA may inform clinical decision-making with precision medicine insights across a broad range of FNA sample types encountered in the care of patients with thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.

Keywords: RNA-sequencing; atypia of undetermined significance; fine-needle aspiration; follicular neoplasm; molecular diagnostics; thyroid cancer; thyroid molecular assays; transcriptome.