Open Access Methodology article

Optimization of cDNA microarrays procedures using criteria that do not rely on external standards

Torunn Bruland1*, Endre Anderssen12, Berit Doseth1, Hallgeir Bergum2, Vidar Beisvag12 and Astrid Lægreid12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), N-7489 Trondheim, Norway.

2 NTNU Microarray Core Facility, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), N-7489 Trondheim, Norway.

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:377  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-377

Published: 18 October 2007



The measurement of gene expression using microarray technology is a complicated process in which a large number of factors can be varied. Due to the lack of standard calibration samples such as are used in traditional chemical analysis it may be a problem to evaluate whether changes done to the microarray procedure actually improve the identification of truly differentially expressed genes. The purpose of the present work is to report the optimization of several steps in the microarray process both in laboratory practices and in data processing using criteria that do not rely on external standards.


We performed a cDNA microarry experiment including RNA from samples with high expected differential gene expression termed "high contrasts" (rat cell lines AR42J and NRK52E) compared to self-self hybridization, and optimized a pipeline to maximize the number of genes found to be differentially expressed in the "high contrasts" RNA samples by estimating the false discovery rate (FDR) using a null distribution obtained from the self-self experiment. The proposed high-contrast versus self-self method (HCSSM) requires only four microarrays per evaluation. The effects of blocking reagent dose, filtering, and background corrections methodologies were investigated. In our experiments a dose of 250 ng LNA (locked nucleic acid) dT blocker, no background correction and weight based filtering gave the largest number of differentially expressed genes. The choice of background correction method had a stronger impact on the estimated number of differentially expressed genes than the choice of filtering method. Cross platform microarray (Illumina) analysis was used to validate that the increase in the number of differentially expressed genes found by HCSSM was real.


The results show that HCSSM can be a useful and simple approach to optimize microarray procedures without including external standards. Our optimizing method is highly applicable to both long oligo-probe microarrays which have become commonly used for well characterized organisms such as man, mouse and rat, as well as to cDNA microarrays which are still of importance for organisms with incomplete genome sequence information such as many bacteria, plants and fish.