Likelihood-Based Inference of B Cell Clonal Families.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


PLoS computational biology, Volume 12, Issue 10, p.e1005086 (2016)


The human immune system depends on a highly diverse collection of antibody-making B cells. B cell receptor sequence diversity is generated by a random recombination process called "rearrangement" forming progenitor B cells, then a Darwinian process of lineage diversification and selection called "affinity maturation." The resulting receptors can be sequenced in high throughput for research and diagnostics. Such a collection of sequences contains a mixture of various lineages, each of which may be quite numerous, or may consist of only a single member. As a step to understanding the process and result of this diversification, one may wish to reconstruct lineage membership, i.e. to cluster sampled sequences according to which came from the same rearrangement events. We call this clustering problem "clonal family inference." In this paper we describe and validate a likelihood-based framework for clonal family inference based on a multi-hidden Markov Model (multi-HMM) framework for B cell receptor sequences. We describe an agglomerative algorithm to find a maximum likelihood clustering, two approximate algorithms with various trade-offs of speed versus accuracy, and a third, fast algorithm for finding specific lineages. We show that under simulation these algorithms greatly improve upon existing clonal family inference methods, and that they also give significantly different clusters than previous methods when applied to two real data sets.