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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A comprehensive evaluation of SAM, the SAM R-package and a simple modification to improve its performance

Shunpu Zhang

Author Affiliations

Department of Statistics, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68583-0963, USA

BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:230  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-230

Published: 29 June 2007

Abstract

Background

The Significance Analysis of Microarrays (SAM) is a popular method for detecting significantly expressed genes and controlling the false discovery rate (FDR). Recently, it has been reported in the literature that the FDR is not well controlled by SAM. Due to the vast application of SAM in microarray data analysis, it is of great importance to have an extensive evaluation of SAM and its associated R-package (sam2.20).

Results

Our study has identified several discrepancies between SAM and sam2.20. One major difference is that SAM and sam2.20 use different methods for estimating FDR. Such discrepancies may cause confusion among the researchers who are using SAM or are developing the SAM-like methods. We have also shown that SAM provides no meaningful estimates of FDR and this problem has been corrected in sam2.20 by using a different formula for estimating FDR. However, we have found that, even with the improvement sam2.20 has made over SAM, sam2.20 may still produce erroneous and even conflicting results under certain situations. Using an example, we show that the problem of sam2.20 is caused by its use of asymmetric cutoffs which are due to the large variability of null scores at both ends of the order statistics. An obvious approach without the complication of the order statistics is the conventional symmetric cutoff method. For this reason, we have carried out extensive simulations to compare the performance of sam2.20 and the symmetric cutoff method. Finally, a simple modification is proposed to improve the FDR estimation of sam2.20 and the symmetric cutoff method.

Conclusion

Our study shows that the most serious drawback of SAM is its poor estimation of FDR. Although this drawback has been corrected in sam2.20, the control of FDR by sam2.20 is still not satisfactory. The comparison between sam2.20 and the symmetric cutoff method reveals that the relative performance of sam2.20 to the symmetric cutff method depends on the ratio of induced to repressed genes in a microarray data, and is also affected by the ratio of DE to EE genes and the distributions of induced and repressed genes. Numerical simulations show that the symmetric cutoff method has the biggest advantage over sam2.20 when there are equal number of induced and repressed genes (i.e., the ratio of induced to repressed genes is 1). As the ratio of induced to repressed genes moves away from 1, the advantage of the symmetric cutoff method to sam2.20 is gradually diminishing until eventually sam2.20 becomes significantly better than the symmetric cutoff method when the differentially expressed (DE) genes are either all induced or all repressed genes. Simulation results also show that our proposed simple modification provides improved control of FDR for both sam2.20 and the symmetric cutoff method.