miRNA Temporal Analyzer (mirnaTA) – for identifying differentially expressed microRNAs in temporal studies using normal quantile transformation

Many open-source bioinformatics tools to identify existing and/or discover novel miRNAs in next-generation sequencing (NGS) reads have become available. While miRNA identification and discovery tools are significantly improved, the development of miRNA differential expression analysis tools, especially in temporal studies, remains substantially challenging. Further, the installation of currently available software is non-trivial and steps of testing with example datasets, trying with one’s own dataset, and interpreting the results require notable expertise and time. Subsequently, there is a strong need for a tool that allows scientists to normalize raw data, perform statistical analyses, and provide intuitive results without having to invest significant efforts.

Researchers at the Naval Medical Research Center-Frederick have developed miRNA Temporal Analyzer (mirnaTA), a bioinformatics package to identify differentially expressed miRNAs in temporal studies. mirnaTA is written in Perl and R (Version 2.13.0 or later) and can be run across multiple platforms, such as Linux, Mac and Windows. In the current version, mirnaTA requires users to provide a simple, tab-delimited, matrix file containing miRNA name and count data from a minimum of two to a maximum of 20 time points and three replicates. To recalibrate data and remove technical variability, raw data is normalized using Normal Quantile Transformation (NQT), and linear regression model is used to locate any miRNAs which are differentially expressed in a linear pattern. Subsequently, remaining miRNAs which do not fit a linear model are further analyzed in two different non-linear methods 1) cumulative distribution function (CDF) or 2) analysis of variances (ANOVA). After both linear and non-linear analyses are completed, statistically significant miRNAs (P < 0.05) are plotted as heat maps using hierarchical cluster analysis and Euclidean distance matrix computation methods.


mirnaTA is an open-source, bioinformatics tool to aid scientists in identifying differentially expressed miRNAs which could be further mined for biological significance. It is expected to provide researchers with a means of interpreting raw data to statistical summaries in a fast and intuitive manner.

Availability – mirnaTA is available at:  http://sourceforge.net/projects/mirnata

Cer RZ, Herrera-Galeano JE, Anderson JJ, Bishop-Lilly KA, Mokashi VP. (2014) miRNA Temporal Analyzer (mirnaTA): a bioinformatics tool for identifying differentially expressed microRNAs in temporal studies using normal quantile transformation. Gigascience 3:20. [article]

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