High-intensity sequencing reveals the sources of plasma circulating cell-free DNA variants

Nat Med. 2019 Dec;25(12):1928-1937. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0652-7. Epub 2019 Nov 25.


Accurate identification of tumor-derived somatic variants in plasma circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) requires understanding of the various biological compartments contributing to the cfDNA pool. We sought to define the technical feasibility of a high-intensity sequencing assay of cfDNA and matched white blood cell DNA covering a large genomic region (508 genes; 2 megabases; >60,000× raw depth) in a prospective study of 124 patients with metastatic cancer, with contemporaneous matched tumor tissue biopsies, and 47 controls without cancer. The assay displayed high sensitivity and specificity, allowing for de novo detection of tumor-derived mutations and inference of tumor mutational burden, microsatellite instability, mutational signatures and sources of somatic mutations identified in cfDNA. The vast majority of cfDNA mutations (81.6% in controls and 53.2% in patients with cancer) had features consistent with clonal hematopoiesis. This cfDNA sequencing approach revealed that clonal hematopoiesis constitutes a pervasive biological phenomenon, emphasizing the importance of matched cfDNA-white blood cell sequencing for accurate variant interpretation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / blood*
  • Circulating Tumor DNA / blood*
  • Circulating Tumor DNA / genetics
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA, Neoplasm / blood
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Genomics*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Instability
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / blood*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids
  • Circulating Tumor DNA
  • DNA, Neoplasm