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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Empirical comparison of cross-platform normalization methods for gene expression data

Jason Rudy and Faramarz Valafar*

Author Affiliations

Biomedical Informatics Research Center, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Dr, San Diego, CA, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:467  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-467

Published: 7 December 2011

Abstract

Background

Simultaneous measurement of gene expression on a genomic scale can be accomplished using microarray technology or by sequencing based methods. Researchers who perform high throughput gene expression assays often deposit their data in public databases, but heterogeneity of measurement platforms leads to challenges for the combination and comparison of data sets. Researchers wishing to perform cross platform normalization face two major obstacles. First, a choice must be made about which method or methods to employ. Nine are currently available, and no rigorous comparison exists. Second, software for the selected method must be obtained and incorporated into a data analysis workflow.

Results

Using two publicly available cross-platform testing data sets, cross-platform normalization methods are compared based on inter-platform concordance and on the consistency of gene lists obtained with transformed data. Scatter and ROC-like plots are produced and new statistics based on those plots are introduced to measure the effectiveness of each method. Bootstrapping is employed to obtain distributions for those statistics. The consistency of platform effects across studies is explored theoretically and with respect to the testing data sets.

Conclusions

Our comparisons indicate that four methods, DWD, EB, GQ, and XPN, are generally effective, while the remaining methods do not adequately correct for platform effects. Of the four successful methods, XPN generally shows the highest inter-platform concordance when treatment groups are equally sized, while DWD is most robust to differently sized treatment groups and consistently shows the smallest loss in gene detection. We provide an R package, CONOR, capable of performing the nine cross-platform normalization methods considered. The package can be downloaded at http://alborz.sdsu.edu/conor webcite and is available from CRAN.