The hitchhikers' guide to RNA sequencing and functional analysis

Academic Article


  • DNA and RNA sequencing technologies have revolutionized biology and biomedical sciences, sequencing full genomes and transcriptomes at very high speeds and reasonably low costs. RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) enables transcript identification and quantification, but once sequencing has concluded researchers can be easily overwhelmed with questions such as how to go from raw data to differential expression (DE), pathway analysis and interpretation. Several pipelines and procedures have been developed to this effect. Even though there is no unique way to perform RNA-Seq analysis, it usually follows these steps: 1) raw reads quality check, 2) alignment of reads to a reference genome, 3) aligned reads' summarization according to an annotation file, 4) DE analysis and 5) gene set analysis and/or functional enrichment analysis. Each step requires researchers to make decisions, and the wide variety of options and resulting large volumes of data often lead to interpretation challenges. There also seems to be insufficient guidance on how best to obtain relevant information and derive actionable knowledge from transcription experiments. In this paper, we explain RNA-Seq steps in detail and outline differences and similarities of different popular options, as well as advantages and disadvantages. We also discuss non-coding RNA analysis, multi-omics, meta-transcriptomics and the use of artificial intelligence methods complementing the arsenal of tools available to researchers. Lastly, we perform a complete analysis from raw reads to DE and functional enrichment analysis, visually illustrating how results are not absolute truths and how algorithmic decisions can greatly impact results and interpretation.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 28334486
  • Author List

  • Chen JW; Shrestha L; Green G; Leier A; Marquez-Lago TT
  • Volume

  • 24
  • Issue

  • 1