A bi-Poisson model for clustering gene expression profiles by RNA-seq

With the availability of gene expression data by RNA-seq, powerful statistical approaches for grouping similar gene expression profiles across different environments have become increasingly important. A team led by researchers at Penn State University describe and assess a computational model for clustering genes into distinct groups based on the pattern of gene expression in response to changing environment. The model capitalizes on the Poisson distribution to capture the count property of RNA-seq data. A two-stage hierarchical expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm is implemented to estimate an optimal number of groups and mean expression amounts of each group across two environments. A procedure is formulated to test whether and how a given group shows a plastic response to environmental changes. The impact of gene-environment interactions on the phenotypic plasticity of the organism can also be visualized and characterized. The model was used to analyse an RNA-seq dataset measured from two cell lines of breast cancer that respond differently to an anti-cancer drug, from which genes associated with the resistance and sensitivity of the cell lines are identified. They performed simulation studies to validate the statistical behaviour of the model. The model provides a useful tool for clustering gene expression data by RNA-seq, facilitating understanding of gene functions and networks.


  • Wang N, Wang Y, Hao H, Wang L, Wang Z, Wang J, Wu R. (2013) A bi-Poisson model for clustering gene expression profiles by RNA-seq. Brief Bioinform [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]