Guidance for RNA-seq co-expression network construction and analysis: safety in numbers


MOTIVATION: RNA-seq co-expression analysis is in its infancy and reasonable practices remain poorly defined. We assessed a variety of RNA-seq expression data to determine factors affecting functional connectivity and topology in co-expression networks. RESULTS: We examine RNA-seq co-expression data generated from 1970 RNA-seq samples using a Guilt-By-Association framework, in which genes are assessed for the tendency of co-expression to reflect shared function. Minimal experimental criteria to obtain performance on par with microarrays were textgreater20 samples with read depth textgreater10 M per sample. While the aggregate network constructed shows good performance (area under the receiver operator characteristic curve ∼0.71), the dependency on number of experiments used is nearly identical to that present in microarrays, suggesting thousands of samples are required to obtain ‘gold-standard’ co-expression. We find a major topological difference between RNA-seq and microarray co-expression in the form of low overlaps between hub-like genes from each network due to changes in the correlation of expression noise within each technology. CONTACT: or SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Networks are available at: and supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Bioinformatics (Oxford, England)