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Simple variant prediction evaluation

Project description

License: GPL v3 PyPI Docker Pulls

VETA - Variant prEdiction Tools evAluation

VETA is a tool that analyses the performance of several variant prediction methods at different levels. It can:

    1. Given labeled variants (e.g. benign and pathogenic), VETA benchmarks prediction tools and measures tools' performance for different variant types and locations (e.g. SNVs in coding regions, SNVs in introns, insertions in 5'UTR, etc). If the dataset is large enough, VETA can inspect the reliability of reference thresholds.
    1. If labeled variants are from Clinvar, VETA allows additional analysis (e.g. disease-specific benchmark, filtering for review status desired).
    1. Evaluate prediction scores on a new VCF taking into account the reference thresholds described in the literature. It will highlight top candidate variants that most of the methods predict to be pathogenic.
    1. Apply machine learning to combine scores and improve predictions on a labeled dataset. It is useful to see which features (prediction tools) are most important for the task, thus potentially informing which tools are relevant (and how many are sufficient) to predict variant effects in a clinical setting.

What VETA does not do:

  • It does not run any model/prediction tool within the package.
  • It does not annotate VCFs. For that you have VEP, vcfanno or bcftools annotate.

Citing VETA:

Table of Contents


VETA requires python >= 3.8 and can simply be installed with pip package installer:

pip install veta

If VCF file is large, VETA additionally requires bcftools to parallelize processing per chromosome.

If you run into problems, I recommend the creation of a conda environment, and further packaging of the project with setuptools:

git clone
conda env create -f conda_environment.yml
conda activate veta
pip install .

Alternatively, there is a docker image available:

docker pull pbarbosa/veta:latest
docker run pbarbosa/veta:latest veta --help

When using the docker image, please make sure to map the input data onto the container by setting up a bindmount volume:

docker run -v /local/dir/with/data/:/media pbarbosa/veta:latest veta benchmark [Other options..] --out_dir /media/veta_output /media/local/dir/with/data/ 

Input requirements

VETA has one main requirement: it only accepts VCF files annotated with Ensembl VEP. Particularly, it is required that VEP is run with the --hgvs flag. Some fields are extracted from VEP annotations, particularly the location of the variants (either from Consequence or HGVSc fields), so that VETA can employ different evaluations depending on the variant location (e.g. 5'UTR, coding, etc). Besides that, there are no special requirements.

Internally, VETA takes care of the fact that some tools may be annotated within VEP field (ANN or CSQ), and others as independent INFO fields. As long as they are correctly set in the --config file, the user should not worry about that.

Running on reference datasets

Benchmark mode refers to the comparison of tools when reference labels are known, meaning we have a set of pathogenic and benign variants. Multiple plots will be drawn and several tab-separated tables with performance statistics will be produced. Particularly, results will be generated both using reference thresholds (fixed thresholds) and variable thresholds (ROC curves):

By default, analysis of all variant types is performed, but that can be restricted by selecting which variant types you are interested in:

```veta benchmark --types_of_variant snps`

VETA will analyze separately different variant classes (e.g. missense, synonymous). To aggregate variant classes into more general concepts, please set --aggregate_classes. For example, setting this flag will aggregate missense, frameshifts and synonymous into coding variants to be evaluated together. Bear in mind that the variant class is extracted from the Consequence field of VEP annotations. Multiple consequences will likely exist (depending on how VEP was run), but VETA will pick one for all the analysis. By default, it picks the first consequence occurring within the gene_body (downstream, intergenic, etc are given less priority), but that configuration can be changed by setting --top_vep_consequence, which tells VETA how to pick the consequence to be used for the analysis.

To have a final tool ranking, VETA uses weighted_accuracy (accuracy weighted by the fraction of predictable variants) to order the tools. It is very common to see tools with many missing data (e.g. protein predictors do not predict intronic variants), thus we incorporate this weighting scheme to take into account prediction capacity. The ranking metric can be changed. For example, if the dataset is unbalanced (few pathogenic, many benign), a better metric to use is the F1 score:

veta benchmark --metric weighted_F1

All metrics available can be inspected with veta benchmark --help in the --metrics` argument. Additionally, VETA can restrict the analysis to a subset of tools based on their scope. If the VCF is annotated with many prediction scores, it may be useful to analyze splicing variants with Splicing related predictors:

veta benchmark --scopes_to_evaluate Splicing

As an alternative, one can restrict the tools to analyze using a configuration file --config, which is further explained in the Manual config section.

It is easy to visually inspect whether a given tool behaves for the input dataset by looking at the class distribution plots automatically generated by VETA:


VETA has several internal functions to deal with ClinVar data, namely providing a way to filter input variants at different review status levels. It exploits the VCF fields CLNSIG and CLNREVSTAT to subset input data into a stringency level desired by the user. By default, all evaluations are done in a subset of variants with a review status of > 1 stars with pathogenic, likely_pathogenic, benign, likely_benign interpretations. We call this filtering level 1s_l, meaning we are using variants with a minimum review status of 1 stars, where we include likely assignments. If we want to use assertions without likely interpretations, we just set the --clinvar_stars argument to 1s. Accordingly, to be more restrictive and use variants with > 3 stars, we can set the value to --clinvar_stars 3s_l. Be aware that the number of evaluated variants (dataset size) can change dramatically, depending on the filtering status employed.

It is possible to filter Clinvar variants to specific disease ontologies. VETA allows to filter fom OMIM (--omim_ids, MedGen --medgen_ids and MONDO (--mondo_ids). For example to select ClinVar variants associated with Hypertrophic Caardiomyopathy in all ontologies one would set --medgen_ids C3495498 C0949658 --omim_ids 192600 --mondo_ids 0005045 0024573. This makes it very easy to perform disease-specific evaluations of Clinvar data.

Each time ClinVar scores are processed, a ready-to-use dataframe is written in the same directory of the input file clinvar_file.vcf.gz.tsv. If you repeat the analysis (e.g. using other arguments), this tsv file will be used instead. This avoids processing the whole vcf again, thus saving some time.

User specific dataset

It is possible to use VETA on user-defined labeled datasets. The only requirement is that VETA needs to know which variants correspond to each label. Hence, the input data should be a directory where two VCFs are present, one with pathogenic, and the other with benign variants. This can be optimized in the future, but right now, it looks for patterns (*pathogenic* or *deleterious*) in file names to assign a file to a label. I recommend creating a new folder with just two VCF files, each file named pathogenic.vcf.gz and benign.vcf.gz. Then, the same arguments explained above apply here (except to ClinVar-specific ones like --clinvar_stars, --omim_ids).

Be aware that predictions from tools that are just present in one of the files will be excluded from the analysis. The same will apply if the VCF field corresponding to a tool differs between the files (e.g. CADD-Splice scores are annotated with the field CADD_PHRED in the pathogenic file and CADD_phred in the benign file).

Reference threshold analysis

The benchmark of prediction tools is possible because a threshold for significance is pre-determined (in VETA reference thresholds for the supported tools are provided in the table displayed in the default tools section, or provided by the user in the --config file). Usually, these decision thresholds are provided by the authors of each tool. If not, some papers specifically address that and infer the best decision threshold given the data at hand. We argue that strict reference thresholds may not be ideal, therefore we provide a means to evaluate how appropriate reference thresholds are, given a minimum dataset size.

New thresholds for each tool are inferred based on different ratios of True Positives / False Positives the user desires using the F beta formula. The outcome of this analysis may reveal different optimal thresholds for coding and intronic variants, as TraP and S-CAP already do.

Different values of Beta are used (0.5, 1, 1.5) to lend different importance to precision/recall. For each Beta, the threshold value that maximizes the FBeta function is selected as the best. In practice, increasing this value will improve the number of true positives found at the cost of adding Beta false positives. This is clinically relevant as the user may want to be more or less stringent in his analysis, and fixed thresholds would limit the scope of the score interpretation.

Threshold analysis is activated using the corresponding flag in the benchmark mode:

veta benchmark clinvar_file.vcf.gz --do_threshold_analysis

In addition, --bootstrap argument can be activated when doing threshold analysis (--do_threshold_analysis). When set, VETA will employ a bootstrapping procedure for each tool, where at each iteration an adjusted threshold is derived for the given bootstrap sample (the sample statistic here is the adjusted threshold). To evaluate the stability of the results, we compute the 0.025 and 0.975 quantiles of the distribution of the bootstrap sample statistic and compare them with the best threshold derived for the data sample (the real dataset). If the distribution of the bootstrap sample follows a normal/symmetrical distribution we could even use these quantiles to estimate confidence intervals, but this may not be possible for several tools (e.g. data sample is not representative for confident estimates; the tool is barely better than random guessing; the tool is not robust to the different types of errors we try to control). Users can always inspect the bootstrap plots automatically generated by VETA to look at the bootstrap results in more detail.

Using machine learning to improve predictions

Machine learning can be used to train meta-predictors that use tool scores as features. The main objective is to inspect whether predictions can be improved by combining scores from multiple tools. We use scikit-learn to train several standard classifiers. They are evaluated using StratifiedKFold cross-validation to ensure both classes are equivalently represented at each fold. A gridsearch is performed to select the best set of hyperparameters and the best performant estimator is selected to evaluate performance on hold-out test data. The performance of each classifier is compared against the top 5 individual tools (ranked by --metric). Two equivalent performance plots are drawn: a) *clf_along_best_tools.pdf refers to the performance of the classifiers on test data along with the previously calculated metrics for the top5 tools on the whole dataset; b) *clf_only_on_test_data refers to a more fair comparison, where both classifiers and top tools metrics are calculated on the same test data.

Some acronyms that are used: KNN (K-Nearest Neighbours), QDA (Quadratic Discriminant Analysis), LDA (Linear Discriminant Analysis), SVM (Support Vector Machine).

Additionally, model interpretation techniques are employed to look at which tools were most important in the predictions, thus helping the user to select which features may be important and which ones are irrelevant to use. Feature Importances calculated from Random Forests (in the plot below), Information Gain, Cross Validation Recursive Feature Elimination and Decision Trees visualization with dtreeviz are applied. Additionally, Pearson correlation scores are produced to see which predictions correlate the most.

Machine learning analysis can be enabled by setting the proper flag:

veta benchmark --do_machine_learning

Analyzing intronic variants with more detail

VETA allows the inspection of intronic variants by partitioning the dataset into different bins. Variants are assigned to each bin concerning their distance to the closest splice junction. This information is obtained from the VEP annotations in the HGVSc field. Then, analysis is done on each bin and additional plots are drawn to identify how performance drops (or increases) as we go deeper into the introns. ROC curves and Precision-recall curves are also generated for all intronic variants and across each bin.

This analysis can be enabled with the following flag:

veta benchmark --do_intronic_analysis

It is also possible to set --split_splice_sites so that separate analysis is performed for splicing acceptor-associated and donor-associated variants (assignment based on HGVSc expression for variants less 1000bp from the splice site):

veta benchmark --do_intronic_analysis --split_splice_sites

Running on the interrogate mode

This mode allows the inspection of tools' predictions on a single VCF file, where labels are unknown. It is useful to look at candidate variants that most tools predict to be functionally relevant.

If you are sure the dataset is labeled (e.g. all variants in the VCF are pathogenic), you can set the --labels Pathogenic argument and additional performance metrics will be calculated, just like in benchmark mode.

In addition, score distribution plots can be drawn for multiple tools by using another argument veta interrogate --plot_these_tools CADD-Splice GERP.

Prediction tools annotations in the VCF

VETA has native support for more than 50 prediction tools, with internal functions to process different prediction types. By default, it uses this default config file where it looks for specific VCF fields corresponding to specific tools. Please edit this file if your VCF has a different annotation field for some tools. Custom methods can also be added, but in this case, additional information needs to be provided (namely the reference threshold, directionality and tool scope). In any case, if the default config file does not suit your needs, please set your custom-defined file with the --config argument.

Tools supported by default

I use a combination of VEP and vcfanno to annotate variants with pre-computed scores. While conservation scores are obtained from UCSC, many others were downloaded from dbNSFP. For some tools, scores are directly derived from their website (e.g. CADD, SpliceAI, S-CAP, TraP, etc). In addition, some splicing-related models are run with kipoi. Please get in touch if you need help running any of the following methods.

List of tools available (more will be continuously added)

Category Tool Threshold Incorporates_other_scores Annotated_via
Conservation scores GERP > 4.4 No vcfanno
phyloP > 7.367 No vcfanno
SiPhy > 12.7 No vcfanno
phastCons > 0.99 No vcfanno
CDTS < 10 No vcfanno
Effects on protein function SIFT < 0.001 No VEP
PolyPhen-2 HDIV > 0.978 No VEP
PolyPhen-2 HVAR > 0.978 No VEP
LRT < 0.01 No VEP
Mutation Assessor > 1.935 No VEP
FATHMM < -4.14 No VEP
MutationTaster2 > 0.5 No VEP
MutPred > 0.5 Yes VEP
Condel > 0.468 Yes VEP
CAROL > 0.98 Yes VEP
M-CAP > 0.025 Yes VEP
REVEL > 0.644 Yes VEP
VEST4 > 0.764 Yes VEP
MetaSVM > 0.5 Yes VEP
MetaLR > 0.5 Yes VEP
MVP > 0.7 Yes vcfanno
MTR < 0.5 Yes vcfanno
MPC > 1.36 Yes vcfanno
PrimateAI > 0.8 Yes vcfanno
MISTIC > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
VARITY > 0.75 Yes vcfanno
ClinPred > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
MutScore > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
MutFormer > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
EVE > 0.5 No vcfanno
Disease specific predictors CardioBoost > 0.9 Yes vcfanno
CardioVAI > 2 Yes vcfanno
Functional genomics annotations FATHMM-MKL > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
GWAVA > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
Eigen > 4.86 Yes vcfanno
ReMM > 0.984 Yes vcfanno
FunSeq2 > 1.5 Yes vcfanno
CAPICE > 0.02 Yes vcfanno
Fitness measurement CADD_v1.5 > 15 Yes vcfanno
CADD-Splice > 15 Yes vcfanno
DANN > 0.9 Yes vcfanno
fitCons > 0.4 No vcfanno
LINSIGHT > 0.056 Yes vcfanno
Splicing MaxEntScan |MaxEntScan_diff|> 1 No kipoi
dbscSNV > 0.6 Yes VEP
SPIDEX |dpsi_zscore| > 2 No vcfanno
TraP > 0.221 for coding, 0.174 for intronic Yes vcfanno
SpliceAI > 0.2 No vcfanno
HAL |deltaPSI| > 5 No kipoi
S-CAP Different thresholds Yes vcfanno
MMSplice |deltaLogitPSI| > 2 No kipoi
kipoiSplice4 > 0.5 Yes kipoi
kipoiSplice4_cons > 0.5 Yes kipoi
ConSpliceML > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
IntSplice2 > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
MLCsplice > 0.5 Yes vcfanno
SQUIRLS > 0.074 Yes model_inference
CI-SpliceAI > 0.190 No model_inference
Pangolin |splicing_diff| > 0.2 No model_inference
SPiP > 0.452 Yes model_inference
AbSplice-DNA > 0.01 Yes vcfanno
LaBranchoR > 0.1 Yes kipoi

Manual config file

This config file maps the tool name to the corresponding annotation field in the VCF. It allows adding custom methods, as long as the field exists in the VCF. The config file must be tab-delimited just like this one. Lines starting with '#' are skipped. For tools with native support within VETA (listed in the table above, where the tool name must be matched), only the 2 columns are required. For custom methods, additional columns must be set. Column specifications are as follows:

  • 1st column - Tool name.
  • 2nd column - VCF field for the tool.
  • 3rd column - Tool directionality: whether the method detects relevant variants if the score is higher ('>') or lower ('<') than the reference threshold.
  • 4th column - Reference threshold used to distinguish functional vs benign variants.
  • 5th column - Tool scope. Available options: 'Protein', 'Conservation', 'Splicing', 'Functional'.
  • 6th column - Processing function. How the scores should be processed internally to select one single prediction per tool (for each variant). Check the section below for details.

Note: If multiple VCF fields refer to the same tool (e.g. dbscSNV), a comma must be set to use both in the 2nd column.

Providing custom functions

6th column in the config file must refer to the processing function to apply for single prediction extraction. For now, valid functions are:

  • to_numeric - If the VCF field refers to a single numeric value. The most common case.
  • top_max - Fields that are annotated like 0.922&0.65&.&.&., selects the max value (in this case 0.922)
  • top_min - Same as top_max, but selects the minimum value (tools such as Provean and FATHMM use this function)
  • top_min_abs - Selects the minimum value after converting predictions into absolute values. 0.2&-0.65&0.5&.&. selects 0.2.
  • categorical_to_numeric - Converts categorical predictions (Pathogenic, Likely_benign) into floats to be evaluated using a reference threshold of 0.5. For example, cVEP reports predictions this way. With such tools, ROC curves or threshold analysis are not performed.
  • spliceai - Selects the top score from a SpliceAI prediction in its original format G|KCNA5|0.90|0.2|0.00|0.01|-23|32|-1|4. Selects 0.9. Also works for CI-SpliceAI tool.
  • kipoi_like - Selects top prediction from kipoi. For example, an MMSplice prediction can include negative dPSI changes. Thus, this function selects the top absolute prediction. In a prediction like -4.01,3.01,-0.1, 4.01 is selected.
  • carol_like - Process Condel and CAROL scores so that a numeric prediction is returned. This method is designed to process protein predictions made by some plugins in VEP, where an outcome category is added to the score. Example: deleterious(1.000) returns 1.000.
  • trap - Process TraP scores (numeric fields) so that different reference thresholds based on the variant location are taken into account.
  • scap - Process S-CAP scores to select the top prediction. Example: 1:5core:.:.:0.6556:0.3391:0.9711:0.0 returns 0.9711.
  • conspliceml- Process ConSpliceML predictions (PCDH15|0.295)into numeric scores.
  • conspliceml_like- Process ConSpliceML-like predictions (something|0.295)into numeric scores. It does not require the gene name to be in the first part of the string with a '|' separator.
  • pangolin - Process Pangolin predictions into numeric scores. Example: ENSG00000150275.20_17|-167:0.15|1:-0.86|Warnings: returns 0.86.
  • spip - Process SPiP predictions into numeric scores. Example: T|NM_001143979:g.15802946:G>T|NTR|57.01 % [53.5 % - 61.92 %]| 0.58|+|15802946|substitution|G>T|Intron 9| 27330|NM_001143979|NDE1|donor| 12229|DeepIntron|0.00000|Outside SPiCE Interpretation|..... returns 0.58.
  • labranchor - Process LaBranchoR predictions with kipoi into numeric scores. Example: 0.00006009|0.00000284|0.00000155|0.00001410|0.00000068|0.00000069|0.00000852|0.00000577|0.00001311|0.00001835|0.00022247|0.00042198|0.02063865|0.00004168|0.00059942|0.00001268|0.00004344|0.00058987|0.00001739|0.00011180|0.00000433|0.00014798|0.00137441|0.00197528|0.00289951|0.02905289|0.00045842|0.00003648|0.00018657|0.00013479|0.00555027|0.00034043|0.00000557|0.00022654|0.00008011|0.00023154|-0.00028338|0.00019231|0.00023264|0.00493681|0.00390093|0.00591810|0.04057325|-0.04187574|0.28222620|-0.71714437|0.00762603|0.00418613|0.00897918|0.01294200|0.10232336|0.02213237|0.00116752|0.02681026|0.00037335|0.00018814|0.00019995|0.00033141|0.00013777|0.00013347|0.00015319|0.00008005|0.00030245|0.00049661|0.00033600|0.00003158|0.00000642|0.00000192|0.00001051|0.00000920 returns 0.71714437 found at 25 nucleotides from the splice acceptor.
  • absplice_dna - Process AbSplice-DNA predictions and select max prediction in any tissue. Example: ENSG00000015171|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.10|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.00057|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029|0.0029 returns 0.10.


By default, VETA draws hierarchically-clustered heatmaps, which allows the user to evaluate how similar predictions from different tools are. If run on benchmark mode or interrogate with --labels, ground truth information will be included. This enables the user to easily visualize which tools are clustered in proximity to the ground truth data. If the dataset is large (thousands of variants), this step may take a long time. You can skip it with --skip_heatmap flag.

Note on allele frequency

If the input data has a field that somehow measures allele frequency, that information can be taken into account by VETA by additionally plotting allele frequencies between the variants belonging to each label (benchmark mode, figure below). For example, if gnomAD frequencies are represented in the VCF with the gnomAD_AF INFO field, one can set the --allele_frequency gnomAD_AF so that information is included in the analysis. More info in the help: veta benchmark --help. If the analysis is done with a Clinvar file and AF* is not present in the output, try to delete the tsv file a redo analysis from the original VCF file.

If you find bugs or have suggestions, feel free to get in touch or by opening an issue.

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