Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comparison of frozen and RNALater solid tissue storage methods for use in RNA expression microarrays

George L Mutter1*, David Zahrieh2, Chunmei Liu3, Donna Neuberg2, David Finkelstein3, Heather E Baker1 and Janet A Warrington3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

2 Department of Biostatistical Science, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA

3 Affymetrix Inc, Santa Clara, CA, USA

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BMC Genomics 2004, 5:88  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-5-88

Published: 10 November 2004



Primary human tissues are an invaluable widely used tool for discovery of gene expression patterns which characterize disease states. Tissue processing methods remain unstandardized, leading to unanswered concerns of how to best store collected tissues and maintain reproducibility between laboratories. We subdivided uterine myometrial tissue specimens and stored split aliquots using the most common tissue processing methods (fresh, frozen, RNALater) before comparing quantitative RNA expression profiles on the Affymetrix U133 human expression array. Split samples and inclusion of duplicates within each processing group allowed us to undertake a formal genome-wide analysis comparing the magnitude of result variation contributed by sample source (different patients), processing protocol (fresh vs. frozen vs. 24 or 72 hours RNALater), and random background (duplicates). The dataset was randomly permuted to define a baseline pattern of ANOVA test statistic values against which the observed results could be interpreted.


14,639 of 22,283 genes were expressed in at least one sample. Patient subjects provided the greatest sources of variation in the mixed model ANOVA, with replicates and processing method the least. The magnitude of variation conferred by processing method (24 hours RNALater vs 72 hours RNALater vs. fresh vs frozen) was similar to the variability seen within replicates. Subset analysis of the test statistic according to gene functional class showed that the frequency of "outlier" ANOVA results within each functional class is overall no greater than expected by chance.


Ambient storage of tissues for 24 or 72 hours in RNALater did not contribute any systematic shift in quantitative RNA expression results relative to the alternatives of fresh or frozen tissue. This nontoxic preservative enables decentralized tissue collection for expression array analysis without a requirement for specialized equipment.