skip to main content

Title: RNA Sequencing Data: Hitchhiker's Guide to Expression Analysis
Gene expression is the fundamental level at which the results of various genetic and regulatory programs are observable. The measurement of transcriptome-wide gene expression has convincingly switched from microarrays to sequencing in a matter of years. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) provides a quantitative and open system for profiling transcriptional outcomes on a large scale and therefore facilitates a large diversity of applications, including basic science studies, but also agricultural or clinical situations. In the past 10 years or so, much has been learned about the characteristics of the RNA-seq data sets, as well as the performance of the myriad of methods developed. In this review, we give an overview of the developments in RNA-seq data analysis, including experimental design, with an explicit focus on the quantification of gene expression and statistical approachesfor differential expression. We also highlight emerging data types, such as single-cell RNA-seq and gene expression profiling using long-read technologies.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Annual Review of Biomedical Data Science
Page Range / eLocation ID:
139 to 173
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Motivation

    The biclustering of large-scale gene expression data holds promising potential for detecting condition-specific functional gene modules (i.e. biclusters). However, existing methods do not adequately address a comprehensive detection of all significant bicluster structures and have limited power when applied to expression data generated by RNA-Sequencing (RNA-Seq), especially single-cell RNA-Seq (scRNA-Seq) data, where massive zero and low expression values are observed.


    We present a new biclustering algorithm, QUalitative BIClustering algorithm Version 2 (QUBIC2), which is empowered by: (i) a novel left-truncated mixture of Gaussian model for an accurate assessment of multimodality in zero-enriched expression data, (ii) a fast and efficient dropouts-saving expansion strategy for functional gene modules optimization using information divergency and (iii) a rigorous statistical test for the significance of all the identified biclusters in any organism, including those without substantial functional annotations. QUBIC2 demonstrated considerably improved performance in detecting biclusters compared to other five widely used algorithms on various benchmark datasets from E.coli, Human and simulated data. QUBIC2 also showcased robust and superior performance on gene expression data generated by microarray, bulk RNA-Seq and scRNA-Seq.

    Availability and implementation

    The source code of QUBIC2 is freely available at

    Contact or

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

    more » « less
  2. Single-cell quantification of RNAs is important for understanding cellular heterogeneity and gene regulation, yet current approaches suffer from low sensitivity for individual transcripts, limiting their utility for many applications. Here we present Hybridization of Probes to RNA for sequencing (HyPR-seq), a method to sensitively quantify the expression of hundreds of chosen genes in single cells. HyPR-seq involves hybridizing DNA probes to RNA, distributing cells into nanoliter droplets, amplifying the probes with PCR, and sequencing the amplicons to quantify the expression of chosen genes. HyPR-seq achieves high sensitivity for individual transcripts, detects nonpolyadenylated and low-abundance transcripts, and can profile more than 100,000 single cells. We demonstrate how HyPR-seq can profile the effects of CRISPR perturbations in pooled screens, detect time-resolved changes in gene expression via measurements of gene introns, and detect rare transcripts and quantify cell-type frequencies in tissue using low-abundance marker genes. By directing sequencing power to genes of interest and sensitively quantifying individual transcripts, HyPR-seq reduces costs by up to 100-fold compared to whole-transcriptome single-cell RNA-sequencing, making HyPR-seq a powerful method for targeted RNA profiling in single cells.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    The ability to profile transcriptomes and characterize global gene expression changes has been greatly enabled by the development of RNA sequencing technologies (RNA-seq). However, the process of generating sequencing-compatible cDNA libraries from RNA samples can be time-consuming and expensive, especially for bacterial mRNAs which lack poly(A)-tails that are often used to streamline this process for eukaryotic samples. Compared to the increasing throughput and decreasing cost of sequencing, library preparation has had limited advances. Here, we describe bacterial-multiplexed-seq (BaM-seq), an approach that enables simple barcoding of many bacterial RNA samples that decreases the time and cost of library preparation. We also present targeted-bacterial-multiplexed-seq (TBaM-seq) that allows for differential expression analysis of specific gene panels with over 100-fold enrichment in read coverage. In addition, we introduce the concept of transcriptome redistribution based on TBaM-seq that dramatically reduces the required sequencing depth while still allowing for quantification of both highly and lowly abundant transcripts. These methods accurately measure gene expression changes with high technical reproducibility and agreement with gold standard, lower throughput approaches. Together, use of these library preparation protocols allows for fast, affordable generation of sequencing libraries.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    To use next-generation sequencing technology such as RNA-seq for medical and health applications, choosing proper analysis methods for biomarker identification remains a critical challenge for most users. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has led the Sequencing Quality Control (SEQC) project to conduct a comprehensive investigation of 278 representative RNA-seq data analysis pipelines consisting of 13 sequence mapping, three quantification, and seven normalization methods. In this article, we focused on the impact of the joint effects of RNA-seq pipelines on gene expression estimation as well as the downstream prediction of disease outcomes. First, we developed and applied three metrics (i.e., accuracy, precision, and reliability) to quantitatively evaluate each pipeline’s performance on gene expression estimation. We then investigated the correlation between the proposed metrics and the downstream prediction performance using two real-world cancer datasets (i.e., SEQC neuroblastoma dataset and the NIH/NCI TCGA lung adenocarcinoma dataset). We found that RNA-seq pipeline components jointly and significantly impacted the accuracy of gene expression estimation, and its impact was extended to the downstream prediction of these cancer outcomes. Specifically, RNA-seq pipelines that produced more accurate, precise, and reliable gene expression estimation tended to perform better in the prediction of disease outcome. In the end, we provided scenarios as guidelines for users to use these three metrics to select sensible RNA-seq pipelines for the improved accuracy, precision, and reliability of gene expression estimation, which lead to the improved downstream gene expression-based prediction of disease outcome.

    more » « less
  5. Multi-modal single cell RNA assays capture RNA content as well as other data modalities, such as spatial cell position or the electrophysiological properties of cells. Compared to dedicated scRNA-seq assays however, they may unintentionally capture RNA from multiple adjacent cells, exhibit lower RNA sequencing depth compared to scRNA-seq, or lack genome-wide RNA measurements. We present scProjection, a method for mapping individual multi-modal RNA measurements to deeply sequenced scRNA-seq atlases to extract cell type-specific, single cell gene expression profiles. We demonstrate several use cases of scProjection, including the identification of spatial motifs from spatial transcriptome assays, distinguishing RNA contributions from neighboring cells in both spatial and multi-modal single cell assays, and imputing expression measurements of un-measured genes from gene markers. scProjection therefore combines the advantages of both multi-modal and scRNA-seq assays to yield precise multi-modal measurements of single cells. 
    more » « less