Skip to content

mixcr assemble

Assembles clonotypes. MiXCR allows to assemble clonotypes by arbitrary gene features. It also applies several layers of error-correction:

  • quality guided error correction to fix sequencing errors and rescue low-quality reads
  • clustering to correct for PCR errors both in case of non-barcoded and UMI-barcoded data
  • specific barcode-guided correction for UMI and single-cell data

assemble assemble

Briefly, assemble pipeline consists of the following steps:

  1. Input.

    Assembler sequentially processes records (aligned reads) from input .vdjca file produced by align.

  2. Pre-clone assembler.

    If data have barcodes, MiXCR aggregates alignments with same barcode values in groups and assembly consensus "pre-clones" using special consensus algorithms. Note that there may be several consensus pre-clones for a single barcode.

  3. Core assembler.

    Core assembler tries to extract gene feature sequences (clonal sequence) from pre-clones or aligned reads (for non-barcoded data) specified by assemblingFeatures parameter (CDR3 by default); the clonotypes are assembled with respect to clonal sequence. If aligned read does not contain clonal sequence (e.g. CDR3 region), it will be dropped. If clonal sequence contains at least one nucleotide with low quality (less than badQualityThreshold parameter value), then this record will be deferred for further processing by mapping procedure. If fraction of low quality nucleotides in deferred record is greater than maxBadPointsPercent parameter value, then this record will be finally dropped. Records with clonal sequence containing only good quality nucleotides are used to build core clonotypes by grouping records by equality of clonal sequences (e.g. CDR3). The sequence quality of the resulting core clonotype will be equal to the total of qualities of the assembled reads. Each core clonotype has two main properties: clonal sequence and count — a number of records aggregated by this clonotype.

  4. Sequencing errors correction (mapping).

    After the core clonotypes are built, MiXCR runs mapping procedure that processes records deferred on the previous step. Mapping is aimed at rescuing of quantitative information from low quality reads. For this, each deferred record is mapped onto already assembled clonotypes: if there is a fuzzy match, then this record will be aggregated by the corresponding clonotype; in case of several matched clonotypes, a single one will be randomly chosen with weights equal to clonotype counts. If no matches found, the record will be finally dropped.

  5. Pre-clustering.

    Pre-clustering is performed if separateByV, separateByJ or separateByC is true. Clones with the same assemblingFeature that were previously split due to the erroneous separateBy segment sequence are aggregated back together.

  6. PCR error correction (clustering).

    After clonotypes are assembled by pre-clone assembler, initial assembler and mapper, MiXCR proceeds to clustering. The clustering algorithm tries to find fuzzy matches between clonotypes and organize matched clonotypes in hierarchical tree (cluster), where each child layer is highly similar to its parent but has significantly smaller count. Thus, clonotypes with small counts will be attached to highly similar "parent" clonotypes with significantly greater count. After all clusters are built, only their heads are considered as final clones. The maximal depths of cluster, fuzzy matching criteria, relative counts of parent/childs and other parameters can be customized using clusteringStrategy parameters described below.

  7. Alignment refining.

    Finally, MiXCR re-aligns clonal sequences to reference V,D,J and C genes using classical strict alignment algorithms (variants of classical Smith-Waterman and Needleman–Wunsch algorithms). Compared to k-aligners these algorithms does not have source of randomness and guarantee best result.

In case of single-cell data MiXCR also assembles paired B-cell heavy/light and T-cell alpha/beta clonotypes.

assembleSingleCell assembleSingleCell

Command line options

mixcr assemble 
    [--assemble-clonotypes-by <gene_features>] 
    [--split-clones-by <gene_type>]... 
    [--dont-split-clones-by <gene_type>]... 
    [-O <key=value>]... 
    [-P <key=value>]... 
    [--report <path>] 
    [--json-report <path>] 
    alignments.vdjca clones.(clns|clna)
The command returns a highly-compressed, memory- and CPU-efficient binary .clns (clones) or .clna (clones & alignments) file that holds exhaustive information about clonotypes. Clonotype tables can be further extracted in tabular form using exportClones or in human-readable form using exportClonesPretty. Additionally, MiXCR produces a comprehensive report which provides a detailed summary of each stage of assembly pipeline.

Basic command line options are:

Path to input file with alignments.
Path where to write assembled clones.
-a, --write-alignments
If this option is specified, output file will be written in "Clones & Alignments" .clna format, containing clones and all corresponding alignments. This file then can be used to build wider contigs for clonal sequence or extract original reads for each clone (if -OsaveOriginalReads=true was use on 'align' stage). Default value determined by the preset.
If tags are present, do assemble pre-clones on the cell level rather than on the molecular level. If there are no molecular tags in the data, but cell tags are present, this option will be used by default. This option has no effect on the data without tags. Default value determined by the preset.
-s, --sort-by-sequence
Sort by sequence. Clones in the output file will be sorted by clonal sequence,which allows to build overlaps between clonesets. Default value determined by the preset.
Turns off automatic inference of minRecordsPerConsensus parameter. Default value determined by the preset.
--split-clones-by <gene_type>
Clones with equal clonal sequence but different gene will not be merged.
--assemble-clonotypes-by <gene_features>
Specify gene features used to assemble clonotypes. One may specify any custom gene region (e.g. FR3+CDR3); target clonal sequence can even be disjoint. Note that assemblingFeatures must cover CDR3
--dont-split-clones-by <gene_type>
Clones with equal clonal sequence but different gene will be merged into single clone.
Use higher compression for output file.
-O <key=value>
Overrides default parameter values.
-P <key=value>
Overrides default pre-clone assembler parameter values.
-r, --report <path>
Report file (human readable version, see -j / --json-report for machine readable report).
-j, --json-report <path>
JSON formatted report file.
Put temporary files in the same folder as the output files.
-f, --force-overwrite
Force overwrite of output file(s).
-nw, --no-warnings
Suppress all warning messages.
Verbose messages.
-h, --help
Show this help message and exit.

Pre-clone assembler parameters

Pre-clone assembler parameters tunes the behavior of consensus algorithms and error correction for UMI-barcoded and single-cell data. There is one global parameter:

Only pre-clones having at least this share among reads with the same tag suffix will be preserved. This option is useful when assembling consensuses inside cell groups, but still want to decontaminate results using molecular barcodes.

A group of -Passembler.* parameters is used for pre-assemble clone assembling feature sequence inside read groups having the same tags:

Maximal number of iterations for reference refinement.
Minimal quality score for all positions for the sequence to be used as an alternative seed (main seed sequence may have lower quality score)
Minimal normalized penalty (as in distance) that must be reached relative to all current consensuses by the record to form a new seed.
How far in relative terms to step back from the farthest record to search for the best alternative seed. Higher number (1.0 being maximal) widens the set of records among which the search is performed.
Minimal share of records (from whole number of records) assembled into a consensus for the consensus to be considered viable
Minimal number of records for single consensus
Minimal share of records assembled into a consensus, from records left after removal of all more abundant consensuses for the consensus to be considered viable
Final consensuses having positions with lower quality scores will be discarded
Maximum number of consensuses to assemble

Group of -Passembler.aAssemblerParameters.* parameters used for consensus assembly:

Effective number of indels the procedure can correctly process
Alignment scoring type. Possible values: linear, affine

Substitution matrix. Available types:

  • simple - a matrix with diagonal elements equal to match and other elements equal to mismatch
  • raw - a complete set of 16 matrix elements should be specified; for example: raw(5,-9,-9,-9,-9,5,-9,-9,-9,-9,5,-9,-9,-9,-9,5)(equivalent to the default value)
Penalty for a gap for linear scoring.
Penalty for a gap open for affine scoring.
Penalty for a gap extension for affine scoring.
Records aligned with score less than this threshold will not be used for consensus assembly
Maximal delta from the maximum possible alignment score divided by max score. Records aligned with higher penalty will not be used for consensus assembly. Bigger positive values of this parameter allows worse alignments to be accepted.
Minimal sum quality for a particular variant threshold used to trim regions with low coverage from the sides
If true, trimming will also be applied to the reference region
Maximal quality score value for the assembled consensus

Default values for these parameters are different depending whether --cell-level option is specified or not.

Show default values
  "assembler": {
    "aAssemblerParameters": {
      "bandWidth": 4,
      "scoring": {
        "type": "linear",
        "alphabet": "nucleotide",
        "subsMatrix": "simple(match = 5, mismatch = -4)",
        "gapPenalty": -14
      "minAlignmentScore": 40,
      "maxNormalizedAlignmentPenalty": 0.15,
      "trimMinimalSumQuality": 0,
      "trimReferenceRegion": false,
      "maxQuality": 45
    "maxIterations": 6,
    "minAltSeedQualityScore": 11,
    "minAltSeedNormalizedPenalty": 0.35,
    "altSeedPenaltyTolerance": 0.3,
    "minRecordSharePerConsensus": 0.01,
    "minRecordsPerConsensus": 1,
    "minRecursiveRecordShare": 0.2,
    "minQualityScore": 0,
    "maxConsensuses": 0
  "minTagSuffixShare": 0.8
  "assembler": {
    "aAssemblerParameters": {
      "bandWidth": 4,
      "scoring": {
        "type": "linear",
        "alphabet": "nucleotide",
        "subsMatrix": "simple(match = 5, mismatch = -4)",
        "gapPenalty": -14
      "minAlignmentScore": 40,
      "maxNormalizedAlignmentPenalty": 0.15,
      "trimMinimalSumQuality": 0,
      "trimReferenceRegion": false,
      "maxQuality": 45
    "maxIterations": 6,
    "minAltSeedQualityScore": 11,
    "minAltSeedNormalizedPenalty": 0.35,
    "altSeedPenaltyTolerance": 0.3,
    "minRecordSharePerConsensus": 0.2,
    "minRecordsPerConsensus": 1,
    "minRecursiveRecordShare": 0.4,
    "minQualityScore": 0,
    "maxConsensuses": 3
  "minTagSuffixShare": 0.0

Core assembler parameters

Basic core assembler parameters are:


Specify gene feature used to assemble clonotypes. One may specify any custom gene region (e.g. FR3+CDR3); target clonal sequence can even be disjoint. Note that assemblingFeatures must cover CDR3. Example:

  > mixcr assemble -OassemblingFeatures="[V5UTR+L1+L2+FR1,FR3+CDR3]" alignments.vdjca output.clns
Minimal length of clonal sequence
Minimal value of sequencing quality score: nucleotides with lower quality are considered as "bad". If sequencing read contains at least one "bad" nucleotide within the target gene region, it will be deferred at initial assembling stage, for further processing by mapper.
Maximal allowed fraction of "bad" points in sequence: if sequence contains more than maxBadPointsPercent "bad" nucleotides, it will be completely dropped and will not be used for further processing by mapper. Sequences with the allowed percent of “bad” points will be mapped to the assembled core clonotypes. Set -OmaxBadPointsPercent=0 in order to completely drop all sequences that contain at least one "bad" nucleotide.
Algorithm used for aggregation of total clonal sequence quality during assembling of sequencing reads. Possible values: Max (maximal quality across all reads for each position), Min (minimal quality across all reads for each position), Average (average quality across all reads for each position), MiniMax (all letters has the same quality which is the maximum of minimal quality of clonal sequence in each read).
Minimal allowed quality of each nucleotide of assembled clone. If at least one nucleotide in the assembled clone has quality lower than minimalQuality, this clone will be dropped (remember that qualities of reads are aggregated according to selected aggregation strategy during core clonotypes assembly; see qualityAggregationType).
Aggregate cluster counts when assembling final clones: if addReadsCountOnClustering is true, then all children clone counts will be added to the head clone; thus head clone count will be a total of its initial count and counts of all its children. Refers to further clustering strategy (see below). Does not refer to mapping of low quality sequencing reads described above.

Usage example: turn-off mapping (consider all alignment as good quality)

> mixcr assemble -ObadQualityThreshold=0 alignments.vdjca output.clns

Pre-clustering parameters

MiXCR can separate clones with equal clonal sequence and different V, J and C (e.g. do distinguish clones with different IG isotype) genes. Additionally, to make analysis more robust to sequencing errors there is an additional pre-clustering step to shrink artificial diversity generated by this separation mechanism (see maximalPreClusteringRatio option).

more abundant clone (clone1) absorbs smaller clone (clone2) if clone2.count < clone1.count * maximalPreClusteringRatio (cloneX.count denotes number of reads in corresponding clone) and clone2 contain top V/J/C gene from clone1 in it’s corresponding gene list.
if false clones with equal clonal sequence but different V gene will be merged into single clone.
if false clones with equal clonal sequence but different J gene will be merged into single clone.
if false clones with equal clonal sequence but different C gene will be merged into single clone.

Usage example: separate IG clones by isotypes:

> mixcr assemble -OseparateByC=true alignments.vdjca output.clns

Clustering parameters

Parameters that control clustering procedure and determines the rules for the frequency-based correction of PCR and sequencing errors:

Maximum number of cluster layers (not including head).
Maximum allowed number of mutations in N regions (non-template nucleotides in VD, DJ or VJ junctions): if two fuzzy matched clonal sequences will contain more than allowedMutationsInNRegions mismatches in N-regions, they will not be clustered together (one cannot be a direct child of another).
Parameters that control fuzzy match criteria between clones in adjacent layers. Available predefined values: oneMismatch, oneIndel, oneMismatchOrIndel, twoMismatches, twoIndels, twoMismatchesOrIndels, ..., fourMismatchesOrIndels. By default, twoMismatchesOrIndels allows two mismatches or indels (not more than two errors of both types) between two adjacent clones (parent and direct child).
-OcloneClusteringParameters.clusteringFilter.backgroundSubstitutionRate=0.002 and -OcloneClusteringParameters.clusteringFilter.backgroundIndelRate=0.0002
These parameters set the error probability in case Phred quality is high. For example, if a backgroundSubstitutionRate is set to 0.001 and a Phred quality of a certain nucleotide is 20, which indicates the error probability of 0.01, MiXCR will use 0.01. If the Phred quality is 40 (error probability is 0.0001, which is lower than the backgroundSubstitutionRate), MiXCR will use the backgroundSubstitutionRate and set the error probability to 0.002. The higher the backgroundSubstitutionRate the more aggressive the correction will be.
Indicates the False Discovery Rate for the correction process, approximating the percentage of actual sequences that might be compromised during correction. The default value is 0.001.

Usage example: change maximum allowed number of mutations:

> mixcr assemble -OcloneClusteringParameters.searchParameters=oneMismatchOrIndel alignments.vdjca output.clns

Turn clustering off:

> mixcr assemble -OcloneClusteringParameters=null alignments.vdjca output.clns

Hardware recommendations

Assembly step is memory consuming. Reading and decompression of .vdjca file is handled in parallel and highly efficient way. MiXCR needs amount of RAM sufficient to store clonotype table in memory. In an extreme case of one million of full-length UMI-assembled clonotypes, it is recommended to supply at least 32GB of RAM. Speed almost does not scale with the increase of CPU.