timeSeq – detect biologically relevant DE genes and gene sets in time course RNA-Seq data

Accurate identification of differentially expressed (DE) genes in time course RNA-Seq data is crucial for understanding the dynamics of transcriptional regulatory network. However, most of the available methods treat gene expressions at different time points as replicates and test the significance of the mean expression difference between treatments or conditions irrespective of time. They thus fail to identify many DE genes with different profiles across time.

Researchers from the University of Georgia have developed a negative binomial mixed-effect model (NBMM) to identify DE genes in time course RNA-Seq data. In the NBMM, mean gene expression is characterized by a fixed effect, and time dependency is described by random effects. The NBMM is very flexible and can be fitted to both unreplicated and replicated time course RNA-Seq data via a penalized likelihood method. By comparing gene expression profiles over time, they further classify the DE genes into two subtypes to enhance the understanding of expression dynamics. A significance test for detecting DE genes is derived using a Kullback-Leibler distance ratio. Additionally, a significance test for gene sets is developed using a gene set score.

Simulation analysis shows that the NBMM outperforms currently available methods for detecting DE genes and gene sets. Moreover, the real data analysis of fruit fly developmental time course RNA-Seq data demonstrates the NBMM identifies biologically relevant genes which are well justified by gene ontology analysis.

The proposed method is powerful and efficient to detect biologically relevant DE genes and gene sets in time course RNA-Seq data.

Availability – The timeSeq, an open source software package, is freely available from CRAN: http://rpackages.ianhowson.com/cran/timeSeq/

Sun X, Dalpiaz D, Wu D, S Liu J, Zhong W, Ma P. (2016) Statistical inference for time course RNA-Seq data using a negative binomial mixed-effect model. BMC Bioinformatics 17(1):324. [article]

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