Comprehensive profiling of cancer neoantigens from aberrant RNA splicing

May, 05, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Cancer neoantigens arise from protein-altering somatic mutations in tumor and rank among the most promising next-generation immuno-oncology agents when used in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors. We previously developed a computational framework, REAL-neo, for identification, quality control, and prioritization of both class-I and class-II human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-presented neoantigens resulting from somatic single-nucleotide mutations, small insertions and deletions, and gene fusions. In this study, we developed a new module, SPLICE-neo, to identify neoantigens from aberrant RNA transcripts from two distinct sources: (1) DNA mutations within splice sites and (2) de novo RNA aberrant splicings.


First, SPLICE-neo was used to profile all DNA splice-site mutations in 11,892 tumors from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and identified 11 profiles of splicing donor or acceptor site gains or losses. Transcript isoforms resulting from the top seven most frequent profiles were computed using novel logic models. Second, SPLICE-neo identified de novo RNA splicing events using RNA sequencing reads mapped to novel exon junctions from either single, double, or multiple exon-skipping events. The aberrant transcripts from both sources were then ranked based on isoform expression levels and z-scores assuming that individual aberrant splicing events are rare. Finally, top-ranked novel isoforms were translated into protein, and the resulting neoepitopes were evaluated for neoantigen potential using REAL-neo. The top splicing neoantigen candidates binding to HLA-A*02:01 were validated using in vitro T2 binding assays.


We identified abundant splicing neoantigens in four representative TCGA cancers: BRCA, LUAD, LUSC, and LIHC. In addition to their substantial contribution to neoantigen load, several splicing neoantigens were potent tumor antigens with stronger bindings to HLA compared with the positive control of antigens from influenza virus.


SPLICE-neo is the first tool to comprehensively identify and prioritize splicing neoantigens from both DNA splice-site mutations and de novo RNA aberrant splicings. There are two major advances of SPLICE-neo. First, we developed novel logic models that assemble and prioritize full-length aberrant transcripts from DNA splice-site mutations. Second, SPLICE-neo can identify exon-skipping events involving more than two exons, which account for a quarter to one-third of all skipping events.

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