Handling multi-mapped reads in RNA-seq

Many eukaryotic genomes harbour large numbers of duplicated sequences, of diverse biotypes, resulting from several mechanisms including recombination, whole genome duplication and retro-transposition. Such repeated sequences complicate gene/transcript quantification during RNA-seq analysis due to reads mapping to more than one locus, sometimes involving genes embedded in other genes. Genes of different biotypes have dissimilar levels of sequence duplication, with long-noncoding RNAs and messenger RNAs sharing less sequence similarity to other genes than biotypes encoding shorter RNAs. Many strategies have been elaborated to handle these multi-mapped reads, resulting in increased accuracy in gene/transcript quantification, although separate tools are typically used to estimate the abundance of short and long genes due to their dissimilar characteristics. Researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke discuss the mechanisms leading to sequence duplication, the biotypes affected, the computational strategies employed to deal with multi-mapped reads and the challenges that still remain to be overcome.

Strategies to deal with multi-mapped reads

(A) Example of two genes sharing a duplicated sequence and the distribution of RNA-seq reads originating from them. The two genes are represented by boxes outlined by dashed lines and their common sequence is illutrated by a red line. The reads are represented by lines above the genes, purple for reads that are unique to Gene 1, orange for reads that are unique to Gene 2 and black for reads that are common to genes 1 and 2. (B) General classes to handle multi-mapped reads include ignoring them, counting them once per alignment, splitting them equally between the alignments, rescuing the reads based on uniquely mapped reads of the gene, expectation-maximization approaches, rescuing methods based on read coverage in flanking regions and clustering methods that group together genes/transcripts with shared sequences.

Deschamps-Francoeur G, Simoneau J, Scott MS. (2020) Handling multi-mapped reads in RNA-seq. Comput and Struct Biotech J. [online preprint]. [article]

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