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Specification for TCGA Variant Call Format (VCF)
Version 1.2



Please note that VCF files are treated as protected data and must be submitted to the DCC only in Level 2 archives.

About TCGA VCF specification

Variant Call Format (VCF) is a format for storing and reporting genomic sequence variations. VCF files are modular where the annotations and genotype information for a variant are separated from the call itself. As of May 2011, VCF version 4.1 (described here) is the most recent release. GSCs will generate sequence variation data using high-throughput sequencing technologies and resulting variations will be submitted to DCC as VCF files. TCGA has adopted VCF 4.1 with certain modifications to support supplemental information specific to the project. Subsequent sections describe the format TCGA VCF files should follow and validation steps that would have to be implemented at the DCC.

Summary of current version changes

  • VCF spec version is changed to  "##tcgaversion=1.2".
  • Remove nested angle brackets in VCF header (vcfProcessLog) and use single angle bracket instead because they cause problems with several downstream software tools. The content inside brackets should follow parameter/value rules. If it has multiple parameter values, it needs to use double quote. 
  • In the VT header of VCF spec, we will allow the same values as Variant_Type field in MAF spec. Allowed values will include DNP, TNP and ONP.
  • In SAMPLE line, SequenceSource parameter is new and required. The accepted values are consistent with MAF 2.4 spec Sequence_Source field. (WGS vcf-related changes)

TCGA-specific customizations

The VCF 4.1 specification has been customized to support TCGA-specific variant information. While majority of the steps pertaining to the basic structure of the file remain the same, checks for supplemental information fields have been introduced. For example, TCGA VCF specification allows for additional fields to represent data associated with complex rearrangements, RNA-Seq variants, and sample-specific metadata.

All TCGA-specific additions and modifications in validation steps are prefixed with a


tag for convenient comparison with 1000Genomes VCF 4.1. The following table summarizes TCGA-specific customizations that have been added to the VCF 4.1 specification. The first column, "Customization type", indicates whether a new validation step has been introduced or if an existing step has been modified

Table 1: TCGA-specific validation steps

Customization type


Validation step # in TCGA-VCF 1.2 spec

Corresponding validation step # in VCF 4.1 spec


Validate that file contains ##tcgaversion HEADER line. Its presence indicates that the file is TCGA VCF and the value assigned to the field contains format version number




Additional mandatory header lines (Please refer to Table 2)




Validation of SAMPLE meta-information lines




Validation of PEDIGREE meta-information lines




Acceptable value set for CHROM has been modified




Acceptable value set for ALT has been modified




Validation for INFO sub-field "VT" has been added




Validation for FORMAT sub-field "SS" has been added




Validation for INFO/FORMAT sub-field "DP" has been added




Validation for complex rearrangement records has been added




Validation for RNA-Seq annotation fields has been added




Mandatory FORMAT fields have been added




Check for consistent definitions for INFO, FORMAT and FILTER fields



File format

The following example (based on VCF version 4.1) shows different components of a TCGA VCF file. Any VCF file contains two main sections. The HEADER section contains meta-information for variant records that are reported as individual rows in the BODY of the VCF file. Both sections are described below.

Case-sensitivity: Please note that all fields and their associated validation rules are case-sensitive (as given in the specification) unless noted otherwise.

Figure 1: Components of a sample TCGA VCF file



The HEADER contains meta-information lines that provide supplemental information about variants contained in BODY of the file. HEADER lines could be formatted in the following two ways:





##INFO=<ID=AA,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Ancestral Allele">

Meta-information could be applicable either to all variant records in the file (e.g., date of creation of file) or to individual variants (e.g., flag to indicate whether a given variant exists in dbSNP).

Generic meta-information

Format: ##key=value OR ##FIELDTYPE=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>

The following table lists some of the reserved field names. Files can be customized to contain additional meta-information fields as long as they are not in conflict with reserved field names. The first field in Table 2 (fileformat) is mandatory and lists the VCF version number of the file.

Table 2: Examples of generic meta-information fields




Sample values

(fields in red are TCGA-specific requirements)



Lists the VCF version number the file is based on; must be the first line in the file





Date file was created; should be in yyyymmdd format





Indicates that the file follows TCGA-VCF specification. Format version number is assigned to the field.





Reference build used for variant calling and against which variant coordinates are shown







External assembly file. The field can be assigned a file name if assembly file is included in the archive submitted to the DCC or it can be a URL pointing to the file location.


(if a contig from an assembly file is being referred to in the VCF file, especially for breakends)



Name of the center where VCF file is generated. A comma-separated list can be provided if files from multiple centers are merged.







Indicates whether genotype calls are partially phased (phasing=partial) or unphased (phasing=none)





URL of the gene annotation source e.g., Generic Annotation File (GAF)


(if annotation tags like GENE, SID and RGN are used)



InputVCFSource/Ver/Param list the algorithm, version and settings respectively used to generate variant calls in an individual VCF file or in constituent input files if the file is produced as a result of merging multiple files.

MergeSoftware/Param/Ver/Contact record attributes for the programs used to merge the files along with the associated version, parameters and contact information of the person who produced the merged file.

Note: If VCF file does not represent a set of merged files, MergeSoftware, MergeParam, MergeVer and MergeContact tags will not be applicable and can be omitted. 

For vcfProcessLog, only begin and end have brackets. Brackets in the middle are not allowed. The content inside brackets should follow parameter/value rules. If it has multiple parameter values, it needs to use double quote. 







Specifies the individual for which data is presented in the file



INFO/FORMAT/FILTER meta-information

Format: ##FIELDTYPE=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>

INFO, FORMAT and FILTER (case-sensitive values) are optional fields that have to be declared in the HEADER if they are being referred to in BODY of the file. Different keys that can be used to define them are described in Table 3. All three fields do not use the same set of keys. Please refer to individual field definitions for further details.


TCGA VCF requires all VCF files to follow consistent header declarations for standard INFO and FORMAT sub-fields. Please refer to Tables 4 and 5 for details. If a sub-field exists in these tables and is used in a TCGA VCF file, then all <key=value> pairs in the definition should match entries in the corresponding table for the file to pass validation.


Table 3: Description of keys used in INFO/FORMAT/FILTER meta-information declarations




Data type
(Possible values)

Additional notes



name of the field; also used in BODY of the file to assign values for individual variant records

String, no whitespaces, no comma




specifies the number of values that can be associated with the corresponding field

(Integer >= 0, "A", "G", ".")

Any integer >= 0 indicating number of values;
"A", if the field has one value per alternate allele;
"G", if the field has one value per genotype;
".", if number of values varies, is unknown, or is unbounded



indicates data type of the value associated with the field

(Integer, Float, Flag, Character, String)

"Flag" type indicates that the field does not contain a value entry, and hence the Number should be 0 in this case. FORMAT fields cannot have a "Flag" Type assigned to them.



provides a brief description of the field

String, surrounded by double-quotes, cannot itself contain a double-quote, cannot contain trailing whitespace at the end of string before closing quotes


INFO lines

Format: ##INFO=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>
Required keys: ID, Type, Number, Description

INFO fields are optional and contain additional annotations for a variant. Certain INFO fields have already been created and exist as reserved fields in the current VCF standard. Custom INFO fields can be added based on study requirements as long as they do not use the reserved field names. If an INFO field is declared in the header, it needs to be described further using the following format:


##INFO=<ID=AA,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Ancestral Allele">
##INFO=<ID=AF,Number=A,Type=Float,Description="Allele Frequency">

FORMAT lines

Format: ##FORMAT=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>
Required keys: ID, Type, Number, Description

FORMAT declaration lines are used when annotations need to be added for individual genotypes associated with each sample in the file. FORMAT sub-fields are declared precisely as the INFO sub-fields with the exception that a FORMAT sub-field cannot be assigned a "Flag" Type.


##FORMAT=<ID=GQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Genotype Quality">

Important: TCGA VCF requires the following FORMAT sub-fields to be defined for all variant records. Therefore, these FORMAT lines are not optional for TCGA VCF files and should be declared in the header. Please refer to Table 4b for definitions for these sub-fields.

  • Genotype (GT)
  • Read depth (DP)
  • Reads supporting ALT (AD or DP4). Either AD or DP4 is required to be defined although DP4 is preferred.
  • Average base quality for reads supporting alleles (BQ)
  • Somatic status of the variant (SS). SS can be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 depending on whether relative to normal the variant is none  wildtype, germline, somatic, LOH, post-transcriptional modification, or unknown respectively.

These should be considered as required fields so that they are included by default unless there is an exceptional scenario where the information for a field cannot be obtained. In such a case, "." can be used to indicate missing value.

All somatic mutations should have an associated mandatory field indicating the confidence level with which the variant is classified as somatic. SomaticSniper reports a similar somatic score so we propose the same ID in order to minimize conflicting definitions.

##FORMAT=<ID=SSC,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Somatic score between 0 and 255"

Somatic score SSC is defined as follows in SomaticSniper documentation:

"The somatic score is the Phred-scaled probability (between 0 to 255) that the Tumor and Normal genotypes are not different where 0 means there is no probability that the genotypes are different and 255 means there is a probability of 1-10 ({255}/{-10}) that the genotypes are different between tumor and normal."

FILTER lines

Format: ##FILTER=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>
Required keys: ID, Description

FILTER fields are defined to list filtering criteria used for generating variant calls. Custom filters can be applied as long as a definition is provided in the HEADER. FILTERs that have been applied to the data should be described as follows. Please note that FILTER declarations do not include Type or Number keys.


##FILTER=<ID=q10,Description="Quality below 10">
##FILTER=<ID=s50,Description="Less than 50% of samples have data">

Consistent definitions for reserved INFO, FORMAT and FILTER IDs

To ensure that all TCGA VCF files have consistent definitions for standard fields and to avoid merging errors due to contradicting definitions, following header declarations for common fields are proposed. The 'Source' column in tables 4a and 4b below indicates whether the field is from 1000Genomes VCF or if it is specific to TCGA-VCF. By adhering to these definitions, we can ensure that a given field is interpreted the same way across all centers and that same 'Number', 'Type' and 'Description' values are used for these IDs.

Table 4a: INFO sub-field definitions



Formatted declaration



##INFO=<ID=AA,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Ancestral Allele">



##INFO=<ID=AC,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Allele count in genotypes, for each ALT allele, in the same order as listed">



##INFO=<ID=AF,Number=.,Type=Float,Description="Allele Frequency in primary data, for each ALT allele, in the same order as listed">



##INFO=<ID=AN,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Total number of alleles in called genotypes">



##INFO=<ID=BQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="RMS base quality">



##INFO=<ID=CIGAR,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Cigar string describing how to align an alternate allele to the reference allele">



##INFO=<ID=DB,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="dbSNP membership">



##INFO=<ID=DP,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Total Depth across samples">



##INFO=<ID=END,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="End position of the variant described in this record">



##INFO=<ID=H2,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="HapMap2 membership">



##INFO=<ID=H3,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="HapMap3 membership">



##INFO=<ID=MQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="RMS Mapping Quality">



##INFO=<ID=MQ0,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Total Mapping Quality Zero Reads">



##INFO=<ID=NS,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Number of Samples With Data">



##INFO=<ID=SB,Number=1,Type=Float,Description="Strand bias">



##INFO=<ID=SOMATIC,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="Indicates if record is a somatic mutation">



##INFO=<ID=VALIDATED,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="Indicates if variant has been validated by follow-up experiment">



##INFO=<ID=1000G,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="Indicates membership in 1000Genomes">



##INFO=<ID=IMPRECISE,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="Imprecise structural variation">



##INFO=<ID=NOVEL,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="Indicates a novel structural variation">



##INFO=<ID=SVTYPE,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Type of structural variant">



##INFO=<ID=SVLEN,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Difference in length between REF and ALT alleles">



##INFO=<ID=CIPOS,Number=2,Type=Integer,Description="Confidence interval around POS for imprecise variants">



##INFO=<ID=CIEND,Number=2,Type=Integer,Description="Confidence interval around END for imprecise variants">



##INFO=<ID=HOMLEN,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Length of base pair identical micro-homology at event breakpoints">



##INFO=<ID=HOMSEQ,Number=.,Type=String,Description="Sequence of base pair identical micro-homology at event breakpoints">



##INFO=<ID=BKPTID,Number=.,Type=String,Description="ID of the assembled alternate allele in the assembly file">



##INFO=<ID=MEINFO,Number=4,Type=String,Description="Mobile element info of the form NAME,START,END,POLARITY">



##INFO=<ID=METRANS,Number=4,Type=String,Description="Mobile element transduction info of the form CHR,START,END,POLARITY">



##INFO=<ID=DGVID,Number=1,Type=String,Description="ID of this element in Database of Genomic Variation">



##INFO=<ID=DBVARID,Number=1,Type=String,Description="ID of this element in DBVAR">



##INFO=<ID=DBRIPID,Number=1,Type=String,Description="ID of this element in DBRIP">



##INFO=<ID=MATEID,Number=.,Type=String,Description="ID of mate breakends">



##INFO=<ID=PARID,Number=1,Type=String,Description="ID of partner breakend">



##INFO=<ID=EVENT,Number=1,Type=String,Description="ID of event associated to breakend">



##INFO=<ID=CILEN,Number=2,Type=Integer,Description="Confidence interval around the length of the inserted material between breakends">



##INFO=<ID=DPADJ,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Read Depth of adjacency">



##INFO=<ID=CN,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Copy number of segment containing breakend">



##INFO=<ID=CNADJ,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Copy number of adjacency">



##INFO=<ID=CICN,Number=2,Type=Integer,Description="Confidence interval around copy number for the segment">



##INFO=<ID=CICNADJ,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Confidence interval around copy number for the adjacency">



##INFO=<ID=VLS,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Final validation status relative to non-adjacent Normal,0= none wildtype,1=germline,2=somatic,3=LOH,4=post transcriptional modification,5=unknown">



##INFO=<ID=SID,Number=.,Type=String,Description="Unique identifier from gene annotation source or unknown">



##INFO=<ID=GENE,Number=.,Type=String,Description="HUGO gene symbol or Unknown">



##INFO=<ID=RGN,Number=.,Type=String,Description="Region where nucleotide variant occurs in relation to a gene">



##INFO=<ID=RE,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="Position known to have RNA-edits to occur">



##INFO=<ID=VT,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Variant type, can be SNP, INS , DEL, DNP, TNP, ONP or Consolidated">



##INFO=<ID=VLSC,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Final somatic score between 0 and 255 when multiple lines of evidence are available"

Table 4b: FORMAT sub-field definitions



Formatted declaration






##FORMAT=<ID=DP,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Read depth at this position in the sample">



##FORMAT=<ID=FT,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Sample genotype filter">



##FORMAT=<ID=GL,Number=.,Type=Float,Description="Genotype likelihoods">



##FORMAT=<ID=PL,Number=3,Type=Integer,Description="Normalized, Phred-scaled likelihoods for AA,AB,BB genotypes where A=ref and B=alt; not applicable if site is not biallelic">



##FORMAT=<ID=GP,Number=.,Type=Float,Description="Phred-scaled genotype posterior probabilities">



##FORMAT=<ID=GQ,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Conditional Phred-scaled genotype quality">



##FORMAT=<ID=HQ,Number=2,Type=Integer,Description="Haplotype qualities, two comma separated phred qualities">



##FORMAT=<ID=CN,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Copy number genotype for imprecise events">



##FORMAT=<ID=CNQ,Number=1,Type=Float,Description="Copy number genotype quality for imprecise events">



##FORMAT=<ID=CNL,Number=.,Type=Float,Description="Copy number genotype likelihood for imprecise events">



##FORMAT=<ID=MQ,Number=1,Type=Float,Description="RMS mapping quality">



##FORMAT=<ID=NQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Phred style probability score that the variant is novel with respect to the genome's ancestor">



##FORMAT=<ID=HAP,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Unique haplotype identifier">



##FORMAT=<ID=AHAP,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Unique identifier of ancestral haplotype">



##FORMAT=<ID=SS,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Variant status relative to non-adjacent Normal,0= none wildtype,1=germline,2=somatic,3=LOH,4=post-transcriptional modification,5=unknown">



##FORMAT=<ID=TE,Number=.,Type=String,Description="Translational effect of the variant in a codon">



##FORMAT=<ID=AD,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Depth of reads supporting alleles 0/1/2/3...">



##FORMAT=<ID=DP4,Number=4,Type=Integer,Description="Number of high-quality ref-forward, ref-reverse, alt-forward and alt-reverse bases">



##FORMAT=<ID=BQ,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Average base quality for reads supporting alleles">



##FORMAT=<ID=VAQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Variant allele quality">



##FORMAT=<ID=SSC,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Somatic score between 0 and 255"



##FORMAT=<ID=DPN,Number=.,Type=Integer,Description="Strand specific depth of filtered reads supporting all reported alleles: fwd0,rev0,fwd1,rev1,fwd2,rev2,etc">

Table 5: FILTER ID definitions


Source (center)

Formatted declaration



##FILTER=<ID=mc3,Description="Greater than 3 reads of somatic allele in germline">



##FILTER=<ID=bldp,Description="Position overlap 1000 Genomes Project depth blacklist">



##FILTER=<ID=fa20,Description="Fraction of ALT below 20% of reads">



##FILTER=<ID=sbias,Description="Strand bias, majority of reads supporting ALT are on forward OR reverse strand">



##FILTER=<ID=idl10,Description="Position is within 10 bases of an indel">



##FILTER=<ID=q10,Description="Genotype Quality < 10">



##FILTER=<ID=mf1,Description="Filtered out by MuTect v.1">



##FILTER=<ID=blq,Description="Position overlaps 1000 Genomes Project mapping quality blacklist">



##FILTER=<ID=idls5,Description="Less than 5 reads supporting indel in appropriate tissue">



##FILTER=<ID=pbias,Description="Positional bias, all reads supporting ALT are in first or last third of read">



##FILTER=<ID=ma,Description="Position in germline has 2+ support for 2+ alleles">

TCGA-specific meta-information


Format: ##PEDIGREE=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>
Required keys: Name_0,..,Name_N where N >= 1;

PEDIGREE lines are used to specify derivation relationships between different genomes. Name_0 is associated with the derived genome and Name_1 through Name_N represent the genomes from which it is derived. In the case of tumor clonal populations, one population is clonally derived from another. In the example below, PRIMARY-TUMOR-GENOME is derived from GERMLINE-GENOME.

where N is >= 1;


SAMPLE lines

Format: ##SAMPLE=<key1=value1,key2=value2,...>
Required keys: ID, SampleName, Individual, File, SequenceSource, Platform, Source, Accession, softwareName, softwareVer, softwareParam (missing value, ".", not allowed)

For UUID-compliant files, following rules should be followed:

Required keys: ID, SampleName, Individual, SampleUUID, SampleTCGABarcode, File, Platform, Source, Accession, SequenceSource, softwareName, softwareVer, softwareParam (missing value, ".", not allowed), SequenceSource

  • Value assigned to "SampleUUID" should be a valid aliquot UUID in the database.
  • Value assigned to "SampleTCGABarcode" should represent the aliquot-level metadata associated with SampleUUID. This metadata mapping is originally received by the DCC from BCR.



 SAMPLE lines are used to include additional metadata about each sample for which data is represented in the VCF file. Following points should be noted for SAMPLE lines:

  • All samples are listed in the column header line following the FORMAT column (Figure 1). Each of these samples should have its own HEADER declaration where the sample identifier in the column header should be the same as the value assigned to "ID" key in the corresponding declaration.
    "Source" refers to the BAM repository (e.g., CGHub, dbGAP) and "Accession" is ID for the file in that repository (e.g., CGHub UUID, SRA accession).
    Value assigned to "SampleName" should be a valid aliquot barcode/UUID in the database.
    "SequenceSource" is a required parameter and can only be assigned one of the values listed below based on the source of corresponding BAM file. Please note that these terms correspond to SRA XML Specification Version 1.5.

    Acceptable values for "SequenceSource":
























  • Processing software profile is described using the mandatory tags "softwareName", "softwareVer" and "softwareParam". Values for these fields should be enclosed within angle brackets (< >).
  • If multiple software parameters are defined, comma-separated list of paramName=paramValue pairs should be used.
  • If variant calling pipeline comprises of multiple software programs, each should be described using the above tags. softwareName and softwareVer are separated with comma and each set of parameters is separated with semicolon for each program. An example is shown below:

  • Value assigned to "Platform" tag should match a platform code registered with the DCC. Please refer to the Code Tables Report and select "Platform" in the dropdown menu to view all available platforms. If a platform cannot be found in this list, please contact the DCC.
  • The declaration lists information about the sample (source, platform, source file, etc.) and can also be used to indicate if the sample is a mixture of different kind of genomes. In the example below, "Genomes", "Mixture" and 'Genome_Description" tags represent comma-separated list of different genomes that a sample contains, proportion of each genome in the sample, and a brief description of each genome respectively.

    ##SAMPLE=<ID=NORMAL,SampleName=TCGA-06-0881-10A-01W,Individual=TCGA-06-0881,Description="Normal",softwareName=<VarScan>,softwareVer=<2.2.3>,softwareParam=<somatic-p-value=0.05,strand-filter=1>File=TCGA-06-0881-10A-01W-0421-09.bam,SequenceSource=Exome,Platform=Illumina,Source=dbGAP,Accession=1234,Genomes=<Germline,Tumor>,Mixture=<0.1,0.9>,Genome_Description=<"Germline contamination","Tumor genome">>
  • "Description" field for genome mixture has been renamed to "Genome_Description" to distinguish it from sample description.
  • Values for tags related to genome mixture (Genomes, Mixture, Genome_Description) are within angle brackets.

Column header meta-information

Format: Tab-delimited line starting with "#" and containing headers for all columns in the BODY as shown below.

This is a mandatory header line where the first 8 fields are fixed and have to defined in the column header. "FORMAT" onwards are optional and are included to encapsulate per-sample/genome genotype data.



Variant records

Data lines are tab-delimited and list information about individual variants and associated genotypes across samples. The first 8 fields (Figure 1) are required to be listed in the VCF column header line. Some of these fields require non-null values (see Table 6) for each record. For the remaining fixed fields, even if the field does not have an associated value, it still needs to be specified with a missing value identifier ("." in VCF 4.1). Subsequent fields are optional.

Table 6: Description of fields in the BODY of a VCF file





Data type
(Possible values)

Sample values


Additional notes




Chromosome: an identifier from the reference genome or the assembly file defined in the HEADER.

Alphanumeric string
([1-22], X, Y, MT, <ID>)



Chromosome name should not contain "chr" prefix, e.g., "chr10" will be an invalid entry




Position: The reference position, with the 1st base having position 1.

Non-negative integer







Identifier: Semi-colon separated list of unique identifiers if available.

String, no white-space or semi-colons



Important : When using an rsID as the variant identifier, please append chromosomal location of the variant to the ID. For example, if the variant is at chr7:6013153 and the corresponding rsID is rs10000, then the variant ID should be rs10000_6013153. This is to ensure that there is a consistent rule for satisfying the condition for unique IDs even if a file contains single rsID that maps to multiple variants.




Reference allele(s): Reference allele at the position.

([ACGTN]+ )



Value in POS field refers to the position of the first base in the REF string.




Alternate allele(s): Comma separated list of alternate non-reference alleles called on at least one of the samples. Angle-bracketed ID String (”<ID>”) can also be used for symbolically representing alternate alleles.

String; no whitespace, commas, or angle-brackets in the ID string
([ACGTN]+, < ID>, .)



if ALT==<ID>, ID needs to be defined in the header as




Quality score: Phred-scaled quality score for the assertion made in ALT.

Integer >= 0



Scores should be non-negative integers or missing values




Filtering results: PASS if this position has passed all filters, Otherwise, if the site has not passed all filters, a semicolon-separated list of codes for filters that fail.

String, no whitespace or semi-colon



"0" is reserved and cannot be used as a filter String.




Additional information: INFO fields are encoded as a semicolon-separated series of keys (same as ID in an INFO declaration) with optional values in the format <key=value>.

String, no whitespace, semi-colons, or equal-signs







Genotype sub-fields: If genotype data is present in the file, the fixed fields are followed by a FORMAT column. The field contains a colon-separated list of all pre-defined FORMAT sub-fields (same as ID in a FORMAT declaration) that are applicable to all samples that follow.

String, no whitespace, sub-fields cannot contain colon



"GT" must be the first sub-field if it is present in the FORMAT field.



Case should be same as in "ID" tag of ##SAMPLE declaration in the header

Per-sample genotype information: An arbitrary number of sample IDs can be added to the column header line and a variant record in the BODY can contain genotype information corresponding to FORMAT column for each sample. Contains a colon-separated list of values assigned to each of the sub-fields in FORMAT column.

String, no whitespace, sub-fields cannot contain colon



Values are assigned to FORMAT sub-fields in the SAME order as specified in "FORMAT" column. All samples in any given row for a variant record MUST contain values for all sub-fields as defined in "FORMAT" column. If any of the fields does not have an associated value, then missing value identifier (".") should be used for that field. However, "." cannot be used as a value for any of the IDs in the FORMAT field (e.g., GT:.:DP would lead to an error).

* A "Required" field cannot contain missing value identifier for any record listed in data lines.

Extensions for TCGA data

TCGA data includes but is not limited to SNP's and small indels. A variant representation format for cancer data should be able to support more complex variation types such as structural variants, complex rearrangements and RNA-Seq variants. The following sub-sections present an overview of the extensions that have been added to clearly describe such variations in a VCF file.

Structural variants

A structural variant (SV) can be defined as a region of DNA that includes a variation in the structure of the chromosome. Such variations could be due to inversions and balanced translocations or genomic imbalances (insertions and deletions), also referred to as copy number variants (CNVs). Certain features have been added to the format in order to clearly describe structural variants in a VCF file. A detailed description of the extensions is available here.

Complex rearrangements

Chromosomal rearrangements are caused by breakage of DNA double helices at two different locations. The broken ends in turn rejoin to produce a new chromosomal arrangement. Complex rearrangements involving more than two breaks are frequently observed in cancer genomes. Certain modifications need to be made to the VCF standard to adequately represent such variations in a VCF file. A detailed specification of the proposed extensions to describe rearrangements in a VCF file is available here. Figure 2 illustrates some of the concepts relevant to VCF records for complex rearrangements.

Figure 2: Adjacencies and breakends in a chromosomal rearrangement (adapted from VCF 4.1 specification)



A VCF file has one line for each of the two breakends in an adjacency. Table 7 provides a list of sub-fields that have been added to describe breakends. An INFO sub-field (SVTYPE=BND) is used to indicate a breakend record. Sub-fields MATEID and PARID are used to represent variant record IDs of corresponding mates and partners respectively.

Table 7: Fields added for breakends



Declaration in HEADER
(Sample values in BODY)



Type of structural variant; SVTYPE is set to "BND" for breakend records

##INFO=<ID=SVTYPE,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Type of structural variant">

(SVTYPE=BND for breakend records)


ID of corresponding mate of the breakend record

##INFO=<ID=MATEID,Number=.,Type=String,Description="ID of mate breakend">



ID of corresponding partner of the breakend record

##INFO=<ID=PARID,Number=.,Type=String,Description="ID of partner breakend">



ID of event associated to breakend

##INFO=<ID=EVENT,Number=.,Type=String,Description="ID of breakend event">


The specification for ALT field deviates from the standard format for breakend records. ALT field for a breakend record can be represented in four possible ways based on the type of replacement.

REF   ALT    Description
s     t[p[   piece extending to the right of p is joined after t
s     t]p]   reverse comp piece extending left of p is joined after t
s     ]p]t   piece extending to the left of p is joined before t
s     [p[t   reverse comp piece extending right of p is joined before t

s:  sequence of REF bases beginning at position POS
t:  sequence of bases that replaces "s"
p:  position of the breakend mate indicating the first mapped base that joins at the adjacency; represented as a string of the form "chr:pos"
[]: square brackets indicate direction that the joined sequence continues in, starting from p

RNA-Seq variants

VCF specifications have been extended to address expressed variants obtained from RNA-Seq. Features added for structural variants from genome/exome sequencing are applicable to RNA-Seq structural variants. However, RNA-Seq breakends are represented by setting SVTYPE=FND instead of BND (Table 8) since they can be different from those observed in DNA-Seq.

Table 8: Fields added for RNA-Seq variants



Declaration in HEADER
(Sample values in BODY)



Type of structural variant; SVTYPE is set to "FND" for breakends associated with RNA-Seq

##INFO=<ID=SVTYPE,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Type of structural variant">

(required for RNA-Seq breakend records; SVTYPE=FND)

VCF files for RNA-Seq variants may include gene-related annotations. However, this is not a standard feature of VCF files as eventually all VCF variants will be annotated using information in Generic Annotation File (GAF). Additional INFO and FORMAT sub-fields have been included to describe the characteristics of expressed nucleotide variants (Table 8a).

Table 8a: Annotation fields added for RNA-Seq variants



Declaration in HEADER
(Sample values in BODY)



Unique identifiers from the gene annotation source as specified in ##geneAnno; "unknown" should be used if identifier is not known; comma-separated list of IDs can be used if variant overlaps with multiple features

##INFO=<ID=SID,Number=.,Type=String,Description=”Unique identifier from gene annotation source or unknown”>



HUGO gene symbol; "unknown" should be used when gene symbol is unknown; comma-separated list of genes can be used if variant overlaps with multiple transcripts/genes

##INFO=<ID=GENE,Number=.,Type=String,Description=”HUGO gene symbol”>



Region where a nucleotide variant occurs in relation to a gene

##INFO=<ID=RGN,Number=.,Type=String,Description=”Region where nucleotide variant occurs in relation to a gene”>



Flag to indicate if position is known to have RNA-edits occur

##INFO=<ID=RE,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description=”Position known to have RNA-edits to occur”>



Translational effect of a nucleotide variant in a codon

effect of the variant in a codon">


Including validation status in VCF file

Somatic variations are often validated using follow-up experiments to confirm the variant is not due to sequencing errors. Following points need to be considered while including validation status in VCF file:

  • A single VCF file will contain sequence data for a single case. The file could be the result of merging calls from different centers so validation can be performed on a set of variants reported in a merged VCF file.
  • Validation with secondary technology is performed after obtaining results from primary sequencing method. Therefore, validation is a confirmation step and may or may not be performed before a first-pass VCF file with all candidate mutations is generated and submitted to the DCC.
  • A single mutation can be verified with multiple independent methods and the results may or may not be in agreement.
  • If results from different methods are in conflict, the final validation status of the variant call needs to be inferred based on available information. This could be done manually or programatically.

Format validation

Since validation data is added as additional genotype/sample columns, the file will pass validation as long as all existing format rules are followed and header declarations are correct.

Sample TCGA VCF file with validation status

Line1  ##fileformat=VCFv4.1
Line2  ##tcgaversion=1.2
Line3  ##fileDate=20140205
Line4  ##reference=file:///seq/references/1000GenomesPilot-NCBI36.fasta
Line5  ##FORMAT=<ID=GT,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Genotype">
Line6  ##FORMAT=<ID=GQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Genotype Quality">
Line7  ##FORMAT=<ID=SS,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Variant status relative to non-adjacent Normal, 0=none,1=germline,2=somatic,3=LOH,4=unknown">
Line8  ##INFO=<ID=VLS,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Final validation status relative to non-adjacent Normal, 0=none,1=germline,2=somatic,3=LOH,4=unknown">
Line9  ##FILTER=<ID=q10,Description="Quality below 10">
Line10 ##SAMPLE=<ID=NORMAL,SampleName=TCGA-06-0881-10A-01W,Individual=TCGA-06-0881,Description="Normal",File=TCGA-06-0881-10A-01W-0421-09_illumina.bam,Platform=Illumina,Source=dbGAP,Accession=1234>
Line11 ##SAMPLE=<ID=NORMAL_454,SampleName=TCGA-06-0881-10A-01W,Individual=TCGA-06-0881,Description="Validation normal sample tested with 454",File=TCGA-06-0881-10A-01W-0421-09_454.bam,Platform=454,Source=dbGAP,Accession=245>
Line12 ##SAMPLE=<ID=TUMOR,SampleName=TCGA-06-0881-01A-01W,Individual=TCGA-06-0881,Description="Tumor",File=TCGA-06-0881-01A-01W-0421-09.bam,Platform=Illumina,Source=dbGAP,Accession=1234>
Line13 ##SAMPLE=<ID=TUMOR_454,SampleName=TCGA-06-0881-01A-01W,Individual=TCGA-06-0881,Description="Validation tumor sample tested with 454",File=TCGA-06-0881-01A-01W-0421-09_454.bam,Platform=454,Source=dbGAP,Accession=3456>
Line14 ##SAMPLE=<ID=TUMOR_Sanger,SampleName=TCGA-06-0881-01A-01W,Individual=TCGA-06-0881,Description="Validation tumor sample tested with Sanger seq",File=.,Platform=Sanger_PCR,Source=.,Accession=.>
Line15 #CHROM POS     ID      REF    ALT          QUAL FILTER   INFO       FORMAT       NORMAL      TUMOR      NORMAL_454     TUMOR_454    TUMOR_Sanger
Line16 20     14370   var1    G      A            29   PASS     VLS=2      GT:GQ:SS     0/0:48:.    0/1:50:2   0/0:20:.       0/1:20:2     0/1:.:2
Line17 5      15000   var2    T      C            35   PASS     VLS=1      GT:GQ:SS     0/1:48:.    1/1:51:3   0/1:60:.       0/1:50:1     0/1:13:1
Line18 3      170089  var2    G      T            30   PASS     .          GT:GQ:SS     0/1:48:.    0/1:51:1   .:.:.          .:.:.        .:.:.

The format follows these guidelines:

  1. Sample columns
    • An additional column is included for every line of evidence used for validation. In the example above, tumor calls are verified with 454 and Sanger sequencing and normal calls are validated with 454. Therefore, 3 genotype columns exist in addition to the NORMAL and TUMOR sequencing calls obtained with the primary sequencing method.
    • The validation platform name is appended to the original sample to distinguish the validation results from primary sequencing. <Sample>_<Platform> is used in the example above.
      • Note : <Platform> can be obtained from DCC Code Tables Report. The ##SAMPLE meta-information line also includes a 'Platform' tag where platform name is defined.
    • Each new genotype column header added to the file (e.g., TUMOR_454, TUMOR_Sanger) has to be defined in the header using the ##SAMPLE meta-information line (e.g., Lines 13 and 14).
    • As per VCF specification, the order of FORMAT sub-fields is defined by the FORMAT column and all calls from primary and validation sequencing should comply with this order.
    • If a sub-field does not apply to any given validation call, it should be assigned a missing value (".").
  2. FORMAT sub-field "SS"
    • For any given tumor genotype call, sub-field SS indicates variant status with respect to non-adjacent normal counterpart (0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 based on whether the variant is none  wildtype, germline, somatic, LOH, post-transcriptional modification, or unknown respectively). Therefore, each tumor genotype call (primary and secondary sequencing) will have its own corresponding SS sub-field.
  3. INFO sub-field "VLS"
    • Sub-field VLS represents an inferred decision for a tumor genotype call and is based on the calls obtained with validation. In the example above, var1 shows a somatic call (SS=2) for the tumor sample based on primary sequencing, and both validation methods confirm this call. Therefore, the final validation status of var1 is a somatic variation (VLS=2). However, var2 has a LOH variant in tumor sample (SS=3) based on primary sequencing whereas both validation methods indicate that it is a germline variant (SS=1). In such a case, "VLS" has to be inferred from available information and could differ from the SS value assigned to the tumor sample based on primary sequencing.
      If multiple lines of evidence are available for the somatic status of a variant then each will have its own genotype column with a corresponding somatic score tag. In such a case, the final somatic status is inferred in light of available validation results and is recorded using the INFO tag "VLS". If inferred status is somatic (VLS==2), then a corresponding INFO tag VLSC is mandatory for indicating the somatic score.

      ##INFO=<ID=VLSC,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Final somatic score between 0 and 255"

      An example of such a scenario is shown below in the first variant record:

      #CHROM POS     ID      REF    ALT          QUAL FILTER   INFO                FORMAT       NORMAL      TUMOR        NORMAL_454     TUMOR_454    TUMOR_Sanger
      20     14370   var1    G      A            29   PASS     VLS=2;VLSC=150      GT:GQ:SS:SSC 0/0:48:.:.  0/1:50:2:160 0/0:20:.:.     0/1:20:2:100 0/1:.:2:200
      5      15000   var2    T      C            35   PASS     VLS=1               GT:GQ:SS     0/1:48:.    1/1:51:3     0/1:60:.       0/1:50:1     0/1:13:1
      3      170089  var2    G      T            30   PASS     .                   GT:GQ:SS     0/1:48:.    0/1:51:1     .:.:.          .:.:.        .:.:.

Validation rules

At the minimum, every file needs to go through the checks listed below. Following is an example of a VCF file that shows certain violations cited in the listed validation steps. Please note that line numbers in the file segment below are added for illustration purposes alone and are not expected to be found in an actual VCF file.

Line1  ##fileformat=VCFv4.1
Line2  ##fileDate=20090805
Line3  ##source=myImputationProgramV3.1
Line4  ##reference=file:///seq/references/1000GenomesPilot-NCBI36.fasta
Line5  ##INFO=<ID=NS,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Number of Samples With Data">
Line6  ##INFO=<ID=DB,Number=0,Type=Flag,Description="dbSNP membership">
Line7  ##FORMAT=<ID=GT,Number=1,Type=String,Description="Genotype">
Line8  ##FORMAT=<ID=GQ,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Genotype Quality">
Line9  ##FORMAT=<ID=DP,Number=1,Type=Integer,Description="Read Depth">
Line10 ##FORMAT=<ID=PL,Number=3,Type=Integer,Description=" Normalized Phred-scaled likelihoods for AA, AB, BB genotypes ">
Line11 ##FILTER=<ID=q10,Description="Quality below 10">
Line12 ##FILTER=<ID=s50,Description="Less than 50% of samples have data">
Line13 FILTER=<ID=c10,Description="Shallow coverage below 10x">
Line14 ##ALT=<ID=DEL:ME:ALU,Description="Deletion of ALU element">
Line15 #CHROM POS     ID      REF    ALT          QUAL FILTER   INFO        FORMAT    TCGA-02-0001-01  TCGA-02-0001-02
Line16 20     14370   var1    G      A            29   q10      NS=2;DP=14  GT:GQ:DP  0|0:48           0|1:48:3
Line17 19     15000   var2    G      A            35   q10;s50  NS=2.5      GQ:GT     48:0|0           51:0|1
Line18 19     16000   var3    C      T            30   q10;s10  NS=2        GT:GQ:DP  0/2:48:3         0/1:51:4
Line19 2      14477   rs123   C      <DEL:ME:ALU> 12   PASS     NS=3;DB     GT:GQ     0/1:50           1/1:40
Line20 9      13567   .       A      <DUP>        20   PASS     NS=3        GT:GQ:PL  0/1:49:42,3      1/1:38:96,47/70
Line21 3      18901   rs456   T      C            15   PASS     NS=3/DB     GT        0/1              1/1

Important : A file will be validated as a TCGA VCF file only if it contains ##tcgaversion HEADER line (e.g., ##tcgaversion=1.2). The current acceptable version is 1.2

  1. Mandatory header lines should be present.
  2. All meta-information header lines should be prefixed with "##".
  3. Column header line should be prefixed with "#". A VCF file can contain only a single column header line that must contain all required field names.
  4. Any line lacking the "##" or "#" prefix will be assumed to be a BODY data line and will have to follow the specified format. For example, Line13 leads to a violation as it lacks "##" or "#" but is not a tab-delimited row containing variant information.
  5. HEADER lines cannot be present within the BODY of a file and vice-versa.
  6. INFO, FORMAT and FILTERdeclarations should follow the format below where all keys are required but the order of keys is irrelevant.

  7. Values assigned to ID, Number, Type and Description in INFO, FORMAT or FILTER declarations should follow the rules listed below. A detailed description of the declaration format is provided here.
    1. If an INFO, FORMAT or FILTER ID exists in Table 4a, 4b or 5 respectively (i.e. ID of the sub-field matches value in "ID" column of the table) then applicable Number, Type and Description values for that sub-field declaration must match the corresponding values in "Formatted declaration" column of the table for that sub-field. (TCGA VCF 1.1, TCGA VCF 1.2)
    2. ID, Number, Type !~ /(\s|,|=|;)/
    3. Number is in {Integer>=0, "A", "G", "."}
    4. Type is in {Integer, String, Float, Flag, Character}
    5. Description should be within double quotes and cannot itself contain a double quote
    6. Description string cannot contain leading or trailing whitespace after opening or before closing quotation marks; Line10 shows a violation as Description string contains leading and trailing whitespace.
    7. If ID == "FORMAT", then Type != "Flag"
  8. Any INFO, FORMAT or FILTER sub-fields used in the BODY are required to be defined in the HEADER. For example, var1 (Line16) shows an example of a violation as read depth "DP" is assigned a value (DP=14) without being defined as an INFO sub-field in the HEADER.
  9. Validation of INFOsub-fields:
    1. An INFO sub-field should be included for a variant record in the BODY as <key=value> (e.g., NS=2) where keyis the "ID" value of the sub-field in the HEADER declaration.
      • Exception : An INFO field of "Flag" Type will not be assigned a value in the BODY. The presence of a flag in INFO column merely indicates that the variant record satisfies a condition associated with the flag. For example, Line19 has a "DB" flag without a value entry in the INFO column. "DB" in the INFO column indicates that the variant exists in dbSNP.
    2. Multiple INFO sub-fields can be associated with a single variant record using ";" as a separator (e.g., Line16). Line21 has a violation as "/" is used as a separator in INFO column.
    3. If INFO field "VLS" is defined for a record, its value can only be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 based on whether the mutation is none  wildtype, germline, somatic, LOH, post-transcriptional modification, or unknown.
      1. If INFO field VLS==2, then INFO sub-field VLSC (final somatic score) must be defined where and should be an integer value between 0 and 255 (inclusive).
  10. Validation of FORMAT sub-fields:
    1. FORMAT column for a variant record contains a colon-separated list of all pre-defined FORMAT sub-fields (identified by "ID" value in the HEADER declaration) that are applicable to all samples that follow. A ":" is the only valid separator for sub-fields.
    2. Number of colon-separated sub-fields in FORMAT column should equal to number of colon-separated values assigned to each sample. For example, var1 (Line16) violates this rule for the sample TCGA-02-0001-01 as there are 3 sub-fields in FORMAT column but only 2 values in the sample column.
    3. Following FORMAT fields are required for all variant records in a VCF file. Missing value (".") is allowed for these fields.
      1. Genotype (GT)
      2. Read depth (DP)
      3. Reads supporting ALT (AD or DP4)
      4. Average base quality for reads supporting alleles (BQ)
      5. Somatic status of the variant (SS). SS can be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 depending on whether relative to normal the variant is none  wildtype, germline, somatic, LOH, post-transcriptional modification, or unknown respectively
        • If somatic status SS==2, then FORMAT sub-field SSC (somatic score) must be defined where 0<=SSC<=255 and is an integer.
    4. GTmust be the first sub-field in the string FORMAT. For example, var2 (Line17) violates this rule as GT is not the first sub-field even though it is present in the FORMAT field.
      1. GT is a required sub field for all variants. Missing value (".") is allowed for GT. GT is not a required sub field and can be omitted for a variant row if none of the samples have genotype calls available (TCGA VCF 1.1)
      2. GT represents the genotype, encoded as allele values separated by either of ”/” (genotype unphased) or “|” (genotype phased). The allele values are 0 for the reference allele (in REF field), 1 for the first allele listed in ALT, 2 for the second allele list in ALT and so on. Examples: 0/1, 1|0, or 1/2, etc.
      3. GT is assigned only one allele value for haploid calls (e.g. on Y chromosome). Therefore, if CHROM=="Y" then GT should have only one allele value assigned to it (e.g., "1", "0", ".", etc.) instead of two alleles (e.g., "1/1", "0|0"). If CHROM=="MT" then There is no constraint on the number of alleles as long as the number is bounded within the alleles listed in REF and/or ALT (e.g., 0/1, 0/1/2, 1 are all valid values for MT if REF and ALT have one and two allele values respectively).
      4. All samples should have values assigned to GT for any given variant. If an allele cannot be called for a sample at a given locus, ”.” will be specified for each missing allele in the GT field (for example "./." for a diploid genotype and "." for haploid genotype).
      5. Validation should include ensuring that allele number in GT is within the range of alleles specified in ALT and REF. For example, var3 (Line18) violates this rule as it lists GT as "0/2" for sample TCGA-02-0001-01 but ALT contains only one allele so the only acceptable allele numbers are 0 (REF) and 1 (ALT).
  11. If an INFO or FORMAT sub-field is declared in the header AND is assigned a value for a variant record in the body, the data type should be consistent with the expected type defined in the Typekey of the corresponding declaration. For example, var2 (Line17) violates this rule as the definition for "NS" INFO sub-field states the data type is integer whereas the variant record contains a float value (2.5) assigned to the sub-field.
    • Exception : The rule does not apply if Type of a field is not defined or is incorrectly defined (e.g., field not declared in HEADER, Type not included in declaration, incorrect value for Type). It also does not apply to any missing values (denoted with ".") in the record as they do not have an associated data type.
  12. Multiple comma-separated values (corresponding to value assigned to Number key in declaration) can be specified for an INFO or FORMAT sub-field for a variant record. No other character can be used as separator. Line20 shows a violation as a "/" is used as separator between 2nd and 3rd values for "PL" FORMAT sub-field in the second sample column.
  13. If Number tag is assigned a known bounded value (an integer, "A", "G") for an INFO/FORMAT sub-field, it should be consistent with number of values specified for any variant record in BODY of file. For example, Line20 shows a violation as "PL" is associated with 3 integer values (Line10) but the variant record has only 2 comma-separated integer values (42,3) for TCGA-02-0001-01.
  14. Validation of FILTERsub-fields:
    1. Valid values for FILTER column are "PASS" or a code for the filter that the variant call fails (e.g., "q10" in Line16). The code must correspond to the "ID" value of the corresponding FILTER declaration.
    2. If a call fails multiple filters, FILTER column should contain semicolon-separated list of all failed filter codes (e.g., "q10;s50" in Line17). A ";" is the only valid separator.
    3. All codes listed in the FILTER column must have a well-formed declaration in the HEADER. Line18 shows a violation as "q10" does not have an associated definition in the HEADER.
  15. <TCGA-VCF>

    Validation of SAMPLE meta-information lines:

    1. Each sample ID in the column header (immediately after FORMAT column) must have an associated HEADER declaration where value assigned to "ID" tag in the declaration is the same as sample ID used in the column name.
    2. Declaration must contain all required fields.
    3. Genome mixture tags (Genomes, Mixture, Genome_Description) are enclosed within angle brackets (<>) and can have multiple comma-separated values.
    4. If more than one of the genome mixture tags (Genomes, Mixture, Genome_Description) are defined in a SAMPLE meta-information line, then number of comma-separated values should be the same for all defined tags. For example, "Genomes=<G1,G2>,Mixture=<0.1,0.8,0.1>" would lead to a violation as Mixture has 3 values while Genomes has only 2 values.
    5. Individual values in "Genomes" are strings without white-space, comma or angle brackets.
    6. Individual values in "Mixture" represent proportion (floating point number >= 0 and <= 1) of each genome in the sample and all comma-separated values should add up to a sum of 1.
    7. Individual values in "Genome_Description" are strings surrounded by double quotes where the string itself cannot contain a double quote.
    8. The value assigned to "SampleName" must be a valid aliquot barcode/UUID in the database (TCGA VCF 1.1).
    9. "SequenceSource" is a mandatory field and the value assigned to it must be in control vocabularies listed on Sequence_Source field in MAF 2.4.1 spec (case-insensitive). (TCGA VCF 1.2).
  16. <TCGA-VCF>

    Validation of PEDIGREE meta-information lines:

    1. Declaration line should follow the format:



      1. N >= 1
      2. Name_0 through Name_N are arbitrary (not literal) strings that cannot contain white-space, comma, or angle brackets (TCGA VCF 1.1)
      3. G0-ID through GN-ID are strings that cannot contain white-space, comma, or angle brackets. Each of these should be a header for the genotype columns immediately after FORMAT column and should be defined using "ID" tag in the corresponding ##SAMPLE meta-information line. (TCGA VCF 1.1)
      4. The keys and values used in the <Name_N=Value_N> should be unique across assignments in any given PEDIGREE declaration.
  17. Validation of custom meta-information fields:
    1. If a user-created custom meta-information declaration is encountered and the corresponding key/value structure and content have not been defined in this specification, the line should be validated to ensure it follows one of the following two formats:

      ##contig=<ID=20,length=62435964,assembly=B36,md5=f126cdf8a6e0c7f379d618ff66beb2da,species="Homo sapiens",taxonomy=x>


      1. key !~ /(\s|,|=|;)/
      2. value !~ /(\s|,|=|;)/ UNLESS value is within double quotes, in which case it cannot itself contain a double quote or leading/trailing whitespace OR if value is within angle brackets.
  18. CHROM, POS, and REF are required fields and cannot contain missing value identifiers. Please refer to Table 6 for acceptable values.
    1. <TCGA-VCF>

      CHROM is in {[1-22], X, Y, MT,<chr_ID>} where chr_ID cannot contain whitespace or <>

    2. If CHROM == <chr_ID> then the VCF file MUST have a declaration for assembly file in the HEADER. Please note that values assigned to the field are currently not being validated.

      ##assembly=url or filename
    3. POS is a non-negative integer
    4. REF =~ /[ACGTN]+/
  19. <TCGA-VCF>

    ALT is in {[ACGTN]+, ".", <ID>,



    1. String SV_ALT can be in one of the following four formats and can be used in the ALTfield ONLY when the corresponding INFO field has the key-value pair "SVTYPE=BND" or "SVTYPE=FND".

      Format          Example
      seq[chr:pos[    G[17:198982[
      seq]chr:pos]    GC]1:238909]
      ]chr:pos]seq    ]<ctg1>:235788]GCNA
      [chr:pos[seq    [1:2812734[ACT


      1. seq is in {[ACGTN]+, "."}
      2. chr is in {<chr_ID>, [1-22], X, Y, MT} where chr_ID is a string
      3. pos is a non-negative integer
    2. Similar to 18b, if chr == <chr_ID> (where chr_ID is a string) then the VCF file must have an ##assembly declaration in the HEADER.
    3. If ALT is assigned a value in <ID> format, (e.g., rs123 in Line19), <ID> should be defined in the HEADER as ##ALT=<ID=ID,Description="Description"> (Line14) where ID cannot contain white-space or angle brackets. Line20 shows a violation of this rule as ALT==<DUP> but there is no corresponding ALT declaration in the HEADER with <ID=DUP>.
    4. ALT can contain multiple comma-separated values. No other character can be used as a separator.
  20. No two records are allowed to have the the same ID value. Two records can, however, have the same CHROM and POSvalues.
    • Exception : Multiple records in a file are allowed to have the same missing value identifier (".") as ID.
  21. QUAL field can only contain non-negative integers or "." (missing value).
  22. <TCGA-VCF>

    If INFO sub-field "VT" is declared and used in the BODY, its value can only be in {SNP, INS, DEL,DNP,TNP,ONP}

  23. <TCGA-VCF>

    If FORMAT sub-field "SS" is declared and used in the BODY, its value can be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 depending on whether relative to normal the variant is none  wildtype, germline, somatic, LOH, post-transcriptional modification, or unknown respectively.

  24. <TCGA-VCF>

    "DP" sub-field for read depth can be defined in INFO (combined depth across all samples) or FORMAT (depth in a specific sample) field. If both INFO and FORMAT have values for the sub-field, then sum of DP values across all FORMAT sample columns should be equal to DP value in the INFO field.

  25. <TCGA-VCF>

    Validation of complex rearrangementrecords:

    1. If INFO field includes key-value pairs "SVTYPE=BND" or "SVTYPE=FND" and has values for "MATEID" and/or "PARID", then the value (or multiple comma-separated values) assigned to MATEID or PARID should exist in the file as "ID" field for another variant record.
  26. <TCGA-VCF>

    Validation of RNA-Seq annotation fields:

    1. If INFO field includes "SID", "GENE" or "RGN" keys with associated values, then file MUST contain a declaration for ##geneAnno in the HEADER.
    2. Number of comma-separated values in the optional INFO sub-fields "SID", "GENE" and "RGN" and the FORMAT sub-field "TE" must be the same if more than one of these sub-fields are defined for a record.
    3. INFO sub-field "RGN" is in {5_utr, 3_utr, exon, intron, ncds, sp}.
    4. FORMAT sub-field "TE" is in {SIL, MIS, NSNS, NSTP, FSH, NA}
    5. If "RGN" and "TE" have the same number of comma-separated values, then "RGN" must be "exon" for "TE" to have any value other than "NA". For example, if "RGN=exon,intron,intron" then having "MIS,SIL,NA" for TE would lead to a violation as the 2nd value for RGN is "intron" but the corresponding TE value is "SIL" instead of "NA".
  27. <TCGA-VCF>

    Validation of vcfProcessLog tags: 

    1. Only begin and end have brackets. No brackets in the middle are allowed. The content inside brackets should follow parameter/value rules. If it has multiple parameter values, it needs to use double quote. 
    2. If a field contains multiple values, they are separated by comma. Exception: Separator for multiple values in InputVCFParam and MergeParam is a ";" instead of ",". Individual values within these tags can contain comma-separated parameters (e.g., <a1,c2;a1,b1;a1,b1 in the example given above).
    3. If InputVCF tag has multiple comma-separated values assigned to it (please refer to the second example above), then InputVCFSource, InputVCFVer, InputVCFParam, and InputVCFgeneAnno must contain the same number of values. If a value is not known, it should be substituted with the missing value identifier (".").
    4. If InputVCF contains only a single value, then all tags =~ /Merge.*/ are optional and can either be omitted or can contain missing value identifier ("."). The reason is that attribute related to merging VCF files are applicable only if multiple input VCF files are being merged.
    5. If MergeSoftware contains multiple comma-separated values, MergeParam and MergeVer should contain the same number of values. There is no such constraint for MergeContact.

UUID-compliant files should satisfy the following criteria:

1. The value assigned to "SampleUUID" must be a valid aliquot UUID.

  • The metadata represented by "SampleTCGABarcode" must correspond to SampleUUID at the DCC.

2. If ##INDIVIDUAL is declared in the header, then values assigned to SampleUUID in all ##SAMPLE declarations should correspond to the same participant ID, and the TCGA barcode for the participant should be assigned to ##INDIVIDUAL.

Handling failed checks

  • A VCF file would be required to pass ALL the checks listed above and any violation will lead to a "Failed" validation.
  • Even if a failure is encountered, the file would still need to go through all other checks for validation to be complete. Exception to this requirement would include cases where execution of one validation check is dependent on the success of another prerequisite step. For example, number of values associated with a FORMAT field for a variant record cannot be validated if the field itself is not declared in the HEADER or has a missing Number tag.
  • A summary of all failed checks should be provided as an output.
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