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Next-generation sequencing can reveal in vitro-generated PCR crossover products: some artifactual sequences correspond to HLA alleles in the IMGT/HLA database



The high-resolution human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genotyping assay that we developed using 454 sequencing and Conexio software uses generic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers for DRB exon 2. Occasionally, we observed low abundance DRB amplicon sequences that resulted from in vitro PCR ‘crossing over’ between DRB1 and DRB3/4/5. These hybrid sequences, revealed by the clonal sequencing property of the 454 system, were generally observed at a read depth of 5%–10% of the true alleles. They usually contained at least one mismatch with the IMGT/HLA database, and consequently, were easily recognizable and did not cause a problem for HLA genotyping. Sometimes, however, these artifactual sequences matched a rare allele and the automatic genotype assignment was incorrect. These observations raised two issues: (1) could PCR conditions be modified to reduce such artifacts? and (2) could some of the rare alleles listed in the IMGT/HLA database be artifacts rather than true alleles? Because PCR crossing over occurs during late cycles of PCR, we compared DRB genotypes resulting from 28 and (our standard) 35 cycles of PCR. For all 21 cell line DNAs amplified for 35 cycles, crossover products were detected. In 33% of the cases, these hybrid sequences corresponded to named alleles. With amplification for only 28 cycles, these artifactual sequences were not detectable. To investigate whether some rare alleles in the IMGT/HLA database might be due to PCR artifacts, we analyzed four samples obtained from the investigators who submitted the sequences. In three cases, the sequences were generated from true alleles. In one case, our 454 sequencing revealed an error in the previously submitted sequence.