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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Aug 29;97(18):9834-9.

Importance of replication in microarray gene expression studies: statistical methods and evidence from repetitive cDNA hybridizations.

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  • 1Departments of Medicine and Pathology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA. stmei@channing.harvard.edu


We present statistical methods for analyzing replicated cDNA microarray expression data and report the results of a controlled experiment. The study was conducted to investigate inherent variability in gene expression data and the extent to which replication in an experiment produces more consistent and reliable findings. We introduce a statistical model to describe the probability that mRNA is contained in the target sample tissue, converted to probe, and ultimately detected on the slide. We also introduce a method to analyze the combined data from all replicates. Of the 288 genes considered in this controlled experiment, 32 would be expected to produce strong hybridization signals because of the known presence of repetitive sequences within them. Results based on individual replicates, however, show that there are 55, 36, and 58 highly expressed genes in replicates 1, 2, and 3, respectively. On the other hand, an analysis by using the combined data from all 3 replicates reveals that only 2 of the 288 genes are incorrectly classified as expressed. Our experiment shows that any single microarray output is subject to substantial variability. By pooling data from replicates, we can provide a more reliable analysis of gene expression data. Therefore, we conclude that designing experiments with replications will greatly reduce misclassification rates. We recommend that at least three replicates be used in designing experiments by using cDNA microarrays, particularly when gene expression data from single specimens are being analyzed.

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