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Open Access Research article

Systematic investigation of global coordination among mRNA and protein in cellular society

Haiyun Wang1*, Qi Wang2, Utz J Pape34, Bairong Shen157, Jianhua Huang2, Bin Wu2 and Xia Li16*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Life Science and Technology, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, China

2 Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, Shanghai 200040, China

3 Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA

4 Department of Pathology, Immune Disease Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA

5 Center for Systems Biology, Soochow University, Suzhou 215006, China

6 College of Bioinformatics Science and Technology, Harbin Medical University, Harbin 150086, China

7 Institute of Medical Technology, University of Tampere, Tampere 33014, Finland

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:364  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-364

Published: 9 June 2010



Cell functions depend on molecules organized in the cellular society. Two basic components are mRNA molecules and proteins. The interactions within and between those two components are crucial for carrying out sophisticated cell functions. The interplay can be analyzed by comparing expression levels of mRNA and proteins. This is critical for understanding the molecular interactions, (post-) transcriptional regulations and conservation of co-expression between mRNAs and proteins. By using high-throughput transcriptome and proteome data, this study aims to systematically investigate the general picture of such expression correlations. We analyze four groups of correlations: (i) transcript levels of different genes, (ii) protein levels of different genes, (iii) mRNA levels with protein levels of different genes and (iv) mRNA levels with protein levels of same genes. This helps to obtain global insights into the stability and variability of co-expression and correlation of mRNA and protein levels.


Analysis of the simultaneous co-expression of mRNAs and proteins yields mainly weak correlations. Therefore we introduce the concept of time-delayed co-expression patterns. Based on a time-course dataset, we obtain a high fraction of time-delayed correlations. In group (i), 67% of different transcripts are significantly correlated. At the protein level (ii), 68% of different proteins are significantly correlated. Comparison of the different molecular levels results in a 74% fraction of correlated transcript and protein levels of different genes (iii) and 56% for the same genes (iv). Furthermore, a higher fraction of protein levels (simultaneously 20% and short time-delayed 29%) is correlated than at the transcript level (10% and 18% respectively). Analysis of the dynamics of the correlation shows that correlation at the transcript level is largely passed to the protein level. In contrast, specific co-expression patterns are changed in multiple ways.


Our analysis reveals that the regulation of transcription and translation contains a time-delayed component. The correlation at the protein level is more synchronous or delayed by shorter time than those at the transcript level. This supports the hypothesis that a higher degree of direct physical interactions require a higher synchronicity between the interacting partners. The conservation of correlation between the transcript level (i) and the protein level (ii) sheds light on the processes underlying transcription, translation and regulation. A future investigation of the conditions of conservation will give comprehensive insights in the complexity of the regulatory mechanisms.