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Getting Started

# Download precompiled binaries for Linux
curl -L | tar -jxf -
cd hickit-0.1_x64-linux

# Map Dip-C reads and extract contacts (skip if you use your own pipeline)
./seqtk mergepe read1.fq.gz read2.fq.gz | ./pre-dip-c - | bwa mem -5SP -p hs37d5.fa - | gzip > aln.sam.gz
./k8 hickit.js vcf2tsv phased.vcf > phased_SNP.tsv   # extract phased SNPs from VCF
./k8 hickit.js sam2seg -v phased_SNP.tsv aln.sam.gz | ./k8 hickit.js chronly - | ./k8 hickit.js bedflt par.bed - | gzip > contacts.seg.gz # for male
#./k8 hickit.js sam2seg -v phased_SNP.tsv aln.sam.gz | ./k8 hickit.js chronly -y - | gzip > contacts.seg.gz # for female
./hickit -i contacts.seg.gz -o - | bgzip > contacts.pairs.gz  # optional

# Impute phases (-i also works with contacts.seg.gz)
./hickit -i contacts.pairs.gz -u -o - | bgzip > impute.pairs.gz
./hickit -i contacts.pairs.gz --out-val=impute.val     # estimate imputation accuracy by holdout
# Infer 3D structure
./hickit -i impute.pairs.gz -Sr1m -c1 -r10m -c5 -b4m -b1m -b200k -D5 -b50k -D5 -b20k -O imput.3dg

# 2D contact map in PNG (bin size determined by the image width)
./hickit -i impute.pairs.gz --out-png impute.png
# Compute CpG density (optional)
./hickit.js gfeat -r hs37d5.fa.gz imput.3dg | gzip > imput.cpg.3dg.gz
# Visualize 3D structure (requiring a graphical card)
./hickit-gl -I imput.cpg.3dg.gz --view

Table of Contents


Hickit is a set of tools initially developed to process diploid single-cell Hi-C data. It extracts contact pairs from read alignment, identifies phases of contacts overlapping with SNPs of known phases, imputes missing phases, infers the 3D structure of a single cell and visualizes the structure. Part of the hickit functionality also works with bulk Hi-C data. In particular, hickit implements a fast (untested) binning-free TAD calling algorithm and an efficient neighboring contacts counter which can be adapted to ultrafast loop calling.


Hickit depends on zlib. The command-line tools can be compiled by typing make in the source code directory. The 3D viewer further requires OpenGL and GLUT and can be compiled with make gl=1.

Users' Guide

Hickit keeps one list of contacts and sometimes one 3D structure in memory. It has two types of command-line switches: actions and settings. An action switch modifies the in-memory bulk data or outputs them; a setting switch changes parameters but doesn't modify bulk data. Hickit applies switches sequentially as they appear on the command line. As such, the order of command-line switches often affects the final result.

The following command line does imputation and multiple rounds of 3D reconstruction altogether:

hickit -i in.pairs -u -o imput.pairs -Sr1m -c1 -r10m -c5 -b4m -b1m -b200k -D5 -b50k -D5 -b20k -O out.3dg

It reads input contacts (action -i), imputes missing phases (action -u) and outputs imputed contacts (action -o), which are still stored in memory. Then hickit separates the two homologous chromosomes (action -S), filters isolated contacts in two rounds (-r1m -c1 -r10m -c5, where -r is a setting and -c is an action), and applies five rounds of 3D modeling (the four -b actions) with each at a higher resolution. The final resolution is at 20kb and written to file out.3dg (action -O).

This long command line can be decomposed into shorter ones by keeping more intermediate files:

hickit -i in.pairs -u -o imput.pairs
hickit -i imput.pairs -Sr1m -c1 -r10m -c5 -o imput.flt.pairs
hickit -i imput.flt.pairs -b4m -b1m -b200k -O coarse.3dg
hickit -i imput.flt.pairs -I coarse.3dg -D5 -b50k -D5 -b20k -O out.3dg

It is also possible to output intermediate files by using more output actions in the long command line.


A contact is a pair of chromosomal coordinates that are supposed to be close to each other, inferred from Hi-C or other 3C technologies. A contact pair or sometimes a pair is taken as a synonym of contact. A leg is one of the two chromosomal coordinates in a contact pair.

File formats

The pairs format

Hickit takes the pairs format as the primary data format to store raw contact pairs, binned pairs and phasing information. It uses phase1 and phase2 columns to store phasing. For example,

#columns: readID chr1 pos1 chr2 pos2 strand1 strand2 phase1 phase2
.   1   3194588 1   4266988 -   +   .   0
.   1   3195262 1   7393633 +   +   .   .
.   1   3201962 1   6016262 +   -   1   .

Phase imputation estimates the probablity of the four possible phases in a diploid genome, which are written to the p00, p01, p10 and p11 columns like

#columns: readID chr1 pos1 chr2 pos2 strand1 strand2 p00 p01 p10 p11
.   1   3194588 1   4266988 -   +   0.990   0.000   0.010   0.000
.   1   3195262 1   7393633 +   +   0.605   0.005   0.005   0.385
.   1   3201962 1   6016262 +   -   0.000   0.000   0.010   0.990

The 3dg format

Hickit describes the 3D genomc coordinates in the following format:

1a  3360000 0.377249    -0.280691   -0.861085   0.030120
1a  3560000 0.406092    -0.173746   -0.795618   0.032090
1a  3580000 0.429502    -0.092491   -0.822528   0.027910

where each line consists of chr name, start position, X, Y and Z coordinates. The 6th column optionally stores a feature value (CpG density in this example). Hickit's 3D viewer may color chromosomes by this column if present.

The seg format

This is an intermediate format used by hickit to store raw contacts directly inferred from read alignment. It is generally adviced to convert this format to pairs with:

./hickit --dup-dist=0 --min-leg-dist=0 -i contacts.seg.gz -o contacts.pairs

Generating contacts in the pairs format

If you have your own pipeline to produce contact pairs, please ignore this section.

Aligning Hi-C reads

If have normal Hi-C reads, you can align directly with bwa-mem:

bwa mem hs37d5.fa read1.fq.gz read2.fq.gz | gzip > aln.sam.gz

Note that the hickit pipeline only works with bwa-mem or minimap2 because most other aligners do not produce chimeric alignments.

If you have Dip-C reads, you need to preprocess the reads withpre-dip-c from the pre-pe and then align with bwa-mem:

seqtk mergepe read1.fq.gz read2.fq.gz | pre-dip-c - | bwa mem -p hs37d5.fa - | gzip > aln.sam.gz

Extracting contact pairs

When you don't have phasing information, you can generate contact pairs with

hickit.js sam2seg aln.sam.gz | hickit.js chronly - | gzip > contacts.seg.gz
hickit -i contacts.seg.gz -o - | bgzip > contacts.pairs.gz

When you have phased SNPs in VCF, you can generate contact pairs with the phase columns

hickit.js vcf2tsv NA12878_phased.vcf.gz > phased_SNP.tsv
hickit.js sam2seg -v phased_SNP.tsv aln.sam.gz | hickit.js chronly - | hickit.js bedflt par.bed - | gzip > contacts.seg.gz
hickit -i contacts.seg.gz -o - | bgzip > contacts.pairs.gz

where hickit.js chronly filters out non-chromosomal contigs and phased_SNP.tsv keeps phased SNPs, which looks like

chr1    1010717 C       T
chr1    1011531 T       C
chr1    1013136 C       G

Note that the above is for male samples. Here the pseudoautosomal regions (PARs, coordinates supplied in par.bed) are excluded from analysis. For female samples, the part hickit.js chronly - | hickit.js bedflt par.bed - should be replaced by hickit.js chronly -y - to remove the Y chromosome instead.

Imputing missing phases (diploid single-cell Hi-C only)

Because SNPs are sparse, only a tiny fraction of contacts are fully phased. To impute missing phases, you can

hickit -i contacts.pairs.gz -u -o - | bgzip > impute.pairs.gz

The output is still in the pairs format. The last four columns give the pseudo-probability of four possible phases, inferred by an EM-like algorithm. A number 0.75 or above is generally considered reliable based on held-out validation, which can be performed with

hickit -i contacts.pairs.gz --out-val impute.val

This command line holds out 10% of legs with known phases, impute them back from other contacts and then estimate the accuracy. The output is TAB-delimited with each line consists of probability threshold, sensitivity of intra-chromosome contacts close to the diagonal, accuracy of such contacts, sensitivity of off-diagonal contacts, accuracy of such contacts, sensitivity of all contacts and accuracy of all contacts.

Inferring 3D structures (single-cell only)

The following command line is used to infer the 3D structures of data published in the Dip-C paper.

hickit -i impute.pairs.gz -Sr1m -c1 -r10m -c5 -b4m -b1m -b200k -D5 -b50k -D5 -b20k -O out.3dg

It filters isolated contacts and then iteratively infers structures in multiple round. Each round takes the previous structure as the base line and infers a structure of higher resolution.

To check the crude quality of a 3D structure, we encourage to compute the CpG density with

hickit.js gfeat -r hs37d5.fa impute.3dg.gz | gzip > impute.cpg.3dg.gz

For PBMC and LCL cells, we typically see low-CpG regions placed at the periphery, which leads to a magenta ball (on the left; image produced by the --view action of hickit). For these cell types, a problematic inference often has large areas of greens (high CpG density; on the bottom).


It should be noted that although cells of the same type are generally associated with some features (e.g. low-CpG regions at the periphery), the spacial adjacencies of chromosomes are often distinct. Don't be supprised if you see the 3D structures of two cells look very different.

Related Projects

Dip-c is the primary pipeline used in the Dip-C paper (in review) and has deeply influenced the development of hickit. Hickit in turn optimizes and simplifies multiple steps in the dip-c pipeline. It can reproduce several main conclusions in the paper and occasionally improve the structure. Hickit also learns from nuc_dynamics on single-cell 3D genome modeling.


Hickit was originally developed for single-cell diploid Hi-C data. Although some of its functionality potentially works with bulk Hi-C, it is not well tested. Please raise issues or contact me if you want to try hickit on bulk Hi-C and have troubles. I will really appreciate.


TAD calling, phase imputation, 3D modeling and more for diploid single-cell Hi-C (Dip-C) and general Hi-C




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