Briefings in Bioinformatics

Lesion Shedding Model: unraveling site-specific contributions to ctDNA

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Sampling circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) using liquid biopsies offers clinically important benefits for monitoring cancer progression. A single ctDNA sample represents a mixture of shed tumor DNA from all known and unknown lesions within a patient. Although shedding levels have been suggested to hold the key to identifying targetable lesions and uncovering treatment resistance mechanisms, the amount of DNA shed by any one specific lesion is still not well characterized. We designed the Lesion Shedding Model (LSM) to order lesions from the strongest to the poorest shedding for a given patient. By characterizing the lesion-specific ctDNA shedding levels, we can better understand the mechanisms of shedding and more accurately interpret ctDNA assays to improve their clinical impact. We verified the accuracy of the LSM under controlled conditions using a simulation approach as well as testing the model on three cancer patients. The LSM obtained an accurate partial order of the lesions according to their assigned shedding levels in simulations and its accuracy in identifying the top shedding lesion was not \hl{significantly} impacted by number of lesions. Applying LSM to three cancer patients, we found that indeed there were lesions that consistently shed more than others into the patients’ blood. In two of the patients, the top shedding lesion was one of the only clinically progressing lesions at the time of biopsy suggesting a connection between high ctDNA shedding and clinical progression. The LSM provides a much needed framework with which to understand ctDNA shedding and interpret ctDNA assays.