Functional comparison of exome capture-based methods for transcriptomic profiling of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tumors

NPJ Genom Med. 2021 Aug 12;6(1):66. doi: 10.1038/s41525-021-00231-7.


The availability of fresh frozen (FF) tissue is a barrier for implementing RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) in the clinic. The majority of clinical samples are stored as formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues. Exome capture platforms have been developed for RNA-seq from FFPE samples. However, these methods have not been systematically compared. We performed transcriptomic analysis of 32 FFPE tumor samples from 11 patients using three exome capture-based methods: Agilent SureSelect V6, TWIST NGS Exome, and IDT XGen Exome Research Panel. We compared these methods to the TruSeq RNA-seq of fresh frozen (FF-TruSeq) tumor samples from the same patients. We assessed the recovery of clinically relevant biological features. The Spearman's correlation coefficients between the global expression profiles of the three capture-based methods from FFPE and matched FF-TruSeq were high (rho = 0.72-0.9, p < 0.05). A significant correlation between the expression of key immune genes between individual capture-based methods and FF-TruSeq (rho = 0.76-0.88, p < 0.05) was observed. All exome capture-based methods reliably detected outlier expression of actionable gene transcripts, including ERBB2, MET, NTRK1, and PPARG. In urothelial cancer samples, the Agilent assay was associated with the highest molecular subtype concordance with FF-TruSeq (Cohen's k = 0.7, p < 0.01). The Agilent and IDT assays detected all the clinically relevant fusions that were initially identified in FF-TruSeq. All FFPE exome capture-based methods had comparable performance and concordance with FF-TruSeq. Our findings will enable the implementation of RNA-seq in the clinic to guide precision oncology approaches.