“Expression analysis is one of the most commonly used methods in modern biology,” says Whitehead Member Richard Young. “So we are concerned that flawed assumptions may affect the interpretation of many biological studies.”
Much of today’s interpretation of gene expression data relies on the assumption that all cells being analyzed have similar total amounts of messenger RNA (mRNA), the roughly 10% of a cell’s RNA that acts as a blueprint for protein synthesis. However, some cells, including aggressive cancer cells, produce several times more mRNA than other cells. Traditional global gene expression analyses have typically ignored such differences.
“We’ve highlighted this common assumption in gene expression analysis that potentially affects many researchers,” says Tony Lee, a scientist in Young’s lab and a corresponding author of the article published in this week’s issue of Cell. “We provided a concrete example of the problem and a solution that can be implemented by investigators.”
Members of the Young lab recently uncovered the flaw while investigating genes expressed in cancer cells expressing high levels of c-Myc, a gene regulator known to be highly expressed in aggressive cancer cells. When comparing cells with high and low c-Myc levels, they were surprised to find very different results using different approaches to gene expression analysis. Further investigation revealed that there were striking differences in the total amounts of RNA from the high and low c-Myc -containing cells, yet these differences were masked by commonly used experimental and analytical methods.
“The different results we saw from different methods of gene expression analysis were shocking, and led us to reinvestigate the whole process on several platforms,” says Jakob Lovén, postdoctoral reseacher in Young’s lab and co-author of the Cell paper. “We then realized that the common assumption that cells contain similar levels of mRNA is badly flawed and can lead to serious misinterpretations, particularly with cancer cells that can have very different amounts of RNA.”
In addition to delineating this problem, the Whitehead scientists also describe a remedy. By using synthetically produced mRNAs, called RNA spike-ins, as standardized controls, researchers can compare experimental data and eliminate assumptions about total cell RNA amounts. The remedy applies to all three gene expression analysis platforms they studied.
Although the researchers believe the use of RNA spike-ins should become the new standard for global gene expression analyses, questions are likely to persist about the interpretations of much prior research.
“There are over 750,000 expression datasets in public databases, and because they generally lack information about the cell numbers used in the analysis, it is unclear whether they can be re-examined in order to validate the original interpretation” says David Orlando, a scientist in the Young lab. “It may be necessary to reinvestigate some important concepts.”
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants HG002668 and CA146445, the American Cancer Society, and the Swedish Research Council.
Written by Nicole Giese Rura
Richard Young's primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Revisiting Global Gene Expression Analysis”
Cell, in print October 26, 2012.
Jakob Lovén (1,5), David A. Orlando (1,5), Alla A. Sigova (1), Charles Y. Lin (1,2), Peter B. Rahl (1), Christopher B. Burge (3), David L. Levens (4), Tong Ihn Lee (1,5,*) and Richard A. Young (1,3,5)1. Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 9 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
5. These authors contributed equally.
Nicole Giese Rura | Newswise Science News
What happens in the cell nucleus after fertilization
06.12.2016 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering