To unequivocally address their unresolved intimate structures in blood, we scrutinized the size distribution of circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) using whole genome sequencing (WGS) from both double- and single-strand DNA library preparations (DSP and SSP), as well as using Q-PCR. The size profile in healthy individuals was remarkably homogenous when using either DSP sequencing (DSP-S) or SSP sequencing (SSP-S). Our findings also confirmed that cfDNA size profile shows a characteristic nucleosome fragmentation pattern. Overall, our data indicate that the proportion of cfDNA inserted in mono-nucleosomes, di-nucleosomes and chromatin of higher molecular size (>1,000bp) can be estimated as 67.5-80%, 9.4-11.5% and 8.5-21.0%, respectively. Thus, our data on WGS (N=7) and Q-PCR (N=116 taken together suggests that only a minor proportion of cfDNA is bigger than that existing in mono-nucleosome or transcription factor complexes circulating in blood. Although DNA on single chromatosomes or mono-nucleosomes is detectable, our data revealed that cfDNA is highly nicked (97-98%) on those structures, which appear to be subjected to continuous nuclease activity in the bloodstream. Fragments analysis allows the distinction of cfDNA of different origins: first, cfDNA size profile analysis may be useful in cfDNA extract quality control; second, subtle but reliable differences between healthy metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) patients and healthy individuals vary with the proportion of malignant cell-derived cfDNA in plasma extracts, pointing to a higher degree of cfDNA fragmentation and nuclease activity in samples with high malignant cell cfDNA content. Size profile analysis, or ‘fragmentomics’, has shown significant potential to improve diagnostics and cancer screening.
Cynthia Sanchez, Benoit Roch, Thilbault Mazard, Philippe Blache, Zahra Al Amir Dache, Brice Pastor, Ekaterina Pisareva, Rita Tanos, Alain R. Thierry