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Bioinformatics. 2002 Apr;18(4):585-96.

Analysis of mRNA expression and protein abundance data: an approach for the comparison of the enrichment of features in the cellular population of proteins and transcripts.

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  • 1Department Genetics, 266 Whitney Avenue, Yale University, PO Box 208114, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.



Protein abundance is related to mRNA expression through many different cellular processes. Up to now, there have been conflicting results on how correlated the levels of these two quantities are. Given that expression and abundance data are significantly more complex and noisy than the underlying genomic sequence information, it is reasonable to simplify and average them in terms of broad proteomic categories and features (e.g. functions or secondary structures), for understanding their relationship. Furthermore, it will be essential to integrate, within a common framework, the results of many varied experiments by different investigators. This will allow one to survey the characteristics of highly expressed genes and proteins.


To this end, we outline a formalism for merging and scaling many different gene expression and protein abundance data sets into a comprehensive reference set, and we develop an approach for analyzing this in terms of broad categories, such as composition, function, structure and localization. As the various experiments are not always done using the same set of genes, sampling bias becomes a central issue, and our formalism is designed to explicitly show this and correct for it. We apply our formalism to the currently available gene expression and protein abundance data for yeast. Overall, we found substantial agreement between gene expression and protein abundance, in terms of the enrichment of structural and functional categories. This agreement, which was considerably greater than the simple correlation between these quantities for individual genes, reflects the way broad categories collect many individual measurements into simple, robust averages. In particular, we found that in comparison to the population of genes in the yeast genome, the cellular populations of transcripts and proteins (weighted by their respective abundances, the transcriptome and what we dub the translatome) were both enriched in: (i) the small amino acids Val, Gly, and Ala; (ii) low molecular weight proteins; (iii) helices and sheets relative to coils; (iv) cytoplasmic proteins relative to nuclear ones; and (v) proteins involved in 'protein synthesis,' 'cell structure,' and 'energy production.'



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