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Background: Strand cross-correlation profiles are used for both peak calling pre-analysis and quality control (QC) in chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing (ChIP-seq) analysis. Despite its potential for robust and accurate assessments of signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) because of its peak calling independence, it remains unclear what aspects of quality such strand cross-correlation profiles actually measure. Results: We introduced a simple model to simulate the mapped read-density of ChIP-seq and then derived the theoretical maximum and minimum of cross-correlation coefficients between strands. The results suggest that the maximum coefficient of typical ChIP-seq samples is directly proportional to the number of total mapped reads and the square of the ratio of signal reads, and inversely proportional to the number of peaks and the length of read-enriched regions. Simulation analysis supported our results and evaluation using 790 ChIP-seq data obtained from the public database demonstrated high consistency between calculated cross-correlation coefficients and estimated coefficients based on the theoretical relations and peak calling results. In addition, we found that the mappability-bias-correction improved sensitivity, enabling differentiation of maximum coefficients from the noise level. Based on these insights, we proposed virtual S/N (VSN), a novel peak call-free metric for S/N assessment. We also developed PyMaSC, a tool to calculate strand cross-correlation and VSN efficiently. VSN achieved most consistent S/N estimation for various ChIP targets and sequencing read depths. Furthermore, we demonstrated that a combination of VSN and pre-existing peak calling results enable the estimation of the numbers of detectable peaks for posterior experiments and assess peak calling results. Conclusions: We present the first theoretical insights into the strand cross-correlation, and the results reveal the potential and the limitations of strand cross-correlation analysis. Our quality assessment framework using VSN provides peak call-independent QC and will help in the evaluation of peak call analysis in ChIP-seq experiments.
Anzawa, H., Yamagata, H., & Kinoshita, K. (2020). Theoretical characterisation of strand cross-correlation in ChIP-seq. BMC Bioinformatics, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12859-020-03729-6