Reproducible inference of transcription factor footprints in ATAC-seq and DNase-seq datasets using protocol-specific bias modeling


  • A. Karabacak Calviello
  • A. Hirsekorn
  • R. Wurmus
  • D. Yusuf
  • U. Ohler


  • Genome Biology


  • Genome Biol 20 (1): 42


  • BACKGROUND: DNase-seq and ATAC-seq are broadly used methods to assay open chromatin regions genome-wide. The single nucleotide resolution of DNase-seq has been further exploited to infer transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in regulatory regions through footprinting. Recent studies have demonstrated the sequence bias of DNase I and its adverse effects on footprinting efficiency. However, footprinting and the impact of sequence bias have not been extensively studied for ATAC-seq. RESULTS: Here, we undertake a systematic comparison of the two methods and show that a modification to the ATAC-seq protocol increases its yield and its agreement with DNase-seq data from the same cell line. We demonstrate that the two methods have distinct sequence biases and correct for these protocol-specific biases when performing footprinting. Despite the differences in footprint shapes, the locations of the inferred footprints in ATAC-seq and DNase-seq are largely concordant. However, the protocol-specific sequence biases in conjunction with the sequence content of TFBSs impact the discrimination of footprint from the background, which leads to one method outperforming the other for some TFs. Finally, we address the depth required for reproducible identification of open chromatin regions and TF footprints. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate that the impact of bias correction on footprinting performance is greater for DNase-seq than for ATAC-seq and that DNase-seq footprinting leads to better performance. It is possible to infer concordant footprints by using replicates, highlighting the importance of reproducibility assessment. The results presented here provide an overview of the advantages and limitations of footprinting analyses using ATAC-seq and DNase-seq.