Single-cell methylation sequencing data reveal succinct metastatic migration histories and tumor progression models

Genome Res. 2023 Jul;33(7):1089-1100. doi: 10.1101/gr.277608.122. Epub 2023 Jun 14.


Recent studies exploring the impact of methylation in tumor evolution suggest that although the methylation status of many of the CpG sites are preserved across distinct lineages, others are altered as the cancer progresses. Because changes in methylation status of a CpG site may be retained in mitosis, they could be used to infer the progression history of a tumor via single-cell lineage tree reconstruction. In this work, we introduce the first principled distance-based computational method, Sgootr, for inferring a tumor's single-cell methylation lineage tree and for jointly identifying lineage-informative CpG sites that harbor changes in methylation status that are retained along the lineage. We apply Sgootr on single-cell bisulfite-treated whole-genome sequencing data of multiregionally sampled tumor cells from nine metastatic colorectal cancer patients, as well as multiregionally sampled single-cell reduced-representation bisulfite sequencing data from a glioblastoma patient. We show that the tumor lineages constructed reveal a simple model underlying tumor progression and metastatic seeding. A comparison of Sgootr against alternative approaches shows that Sgootr can construct lineage trees with fewer migration events and with more in concordance with the sequential-progression model of tumor evolution, with a running time a fraction of that used in prior studies. Lineage-informative CpG sites identified by Sgootr are in inter-CpG island (CGI) regions, as opposed to intra-CGIs, which have been the main regions of interest in genomic methylation-related analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CpG Islands / genetics
  • DNA Methylation* / genetics
  • Genome
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods
  • Sulfites


  • hydrogen sulfite
  • Sulfites