A survey of best practices for RNA-seq data analysis

RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) has a wide variety of applications, but no single analysis pipeline can be used in all cases. A multi-national team led by researchers from the University of Florida reviews all of the major steps in RNA-seq data analysis, including experimental design, quality control, read alignment, quantification of gene and transcript levels, visualization, differential gene expression, alternative splicing, functional analysis, gene fusion detection and eQTL mapping.

Transcript identification and the quantification of gene expression have been distinct core activities in molecular biology ever since the discovery of RNA’s role as the key intermediate between the genome and the proteome. The power of sequencing RNA lies in the fact that the twin aspects of discovery and quantification can be combined in a single high-throughput sequencing assay called RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq). The pervasive adoption of RNA-seq has spread well beyond the genomics community and has become a standard part of the toolkit used by the life sciences research community. Many variations of RNA-seq protocols and analyses have been published, making it challenging for new users to appreciate all of the steps necessary to conduct an RNA-seq study properly.

There is no optimal pipeline for the variety of different applications and analysis scenarios in which RNA-seq can be used. Scientists plan experiments and adopt different analysis strategies depending on the organism being studied and their research goals. For example, if a genome sequence is available for the studied organism, it should be possible to identify transcripts by mapping RNA-seq reads onto the genome. By contrast, for organisms without sequenced genomes, quantification would be achieved by first assembling reads de novo into contigs and then mapping these contigs onto the transcriptome. For well-annotated genomes such as the human genome, researchers may choose to base their RNA-seq analysis on the existing annotated reference transcriptome alone, or might try to identify new transcripts and their differential regulation. Furthermore, investigators might be interested only in messenger RNA isoform expression or microRNA (miRNA) levels or allele variant identification. Both the experimental design and the analysis procedures will vary greatly in each of these cases. RNA-seq can be used solo for transcriptome profiling or in combination with other functional genomics methods to enhance the analysis of gene expression. Finally, RNA-seq can be coupled with different types of biochemical assay to analyze many other aspects of RNA biology, such as RNA–protein binding, RNA structure, or RNA–RNA interactions. These applications are, however, beyond the scope of this review as we focus on ‘typical’ RNA-seq. (read more…)

A generic roadmap for RNA-seq computational analyses.


The major analysis steps are listed above the lines for pre-analysis, core analysis and advanced analysis. The key analysis issues for each step that are listed below the lines are discussed in the text. a Preprocessing includes experimental design, sequencing design, and quality control steps. b Core analyses include transcriptome profiling, differential gene expression, and functional profiling. c Advanced analysis includes visualization, other RNA-seq technologies, and data integration. Abbreviations: ChIP-seq Chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing, eQTL Expression quantitative loci, FPKM Fragments per kilobase of exon model per million mapped reads, GSEA Gene set enrichment analysis, PCA Principal component analysis, RPKM Reads per kilobase of exon model per million reads, sQTL Splicing quantitative trait loci, TF Transcription factor, TPM Transcripts per million

Conesa A, Madrigal P, Tarazona S, Gomez-Cabrero D, Cervera A, McPherson A, Szcześniak MW, Gaffney DJ, Elo LL, Zhang X, Mortazavi A. (2016) A survey of best practices for RNA-seq data analysis. Genome Biol 17(1):13. [article]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.