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Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Sep;38(17):e169. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkq636. Epub 2010 Jul 21.

Rank-rank hypergeometric overlap: identification of statistically significant overlap between gene-expression signatures.

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Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, Institute for Molecular Medicine, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and California NanoSystems Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Comparing independent high-throughput gene-expression experiments can generate hypotheses about which gene-expression programs are shared between particular biological processes. Current techniques to compare expression profiles typically involve choosing a fixed differential expression threshold to summarize results, potentially reducing sensitivity to small but concordant changes. We present a threshold-free algorithm called Rank-rank Hypergeometric Overlap (RRHO). This algorithm steps through two gene lists ranked by the degree of differential expression observed in two profiling experiments, successively measuring the statistical significance of the number of overlapping genes. The output is a graphical map that shows the strength, pattern and bounds of correlation between two expression profiles. To demonstrate RRHO sensitivity and dynamic range, we identified shared expression networks in cancer microarray profiles driving tumor progression, stem cell properties and response to targeted kinase inhibition. We demonstrate how RRHO can be used to determine which model system or drug treatment best reflects a particular biological or disease response. The threshold-free and graphical aspects of RRHO complement other rank-based approaches such as Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA), for which RRHO is a 2D analog. Rank-rank overlap analysis is a sensitive, robust and web-accessible method for detecting and visualizing overlap trends between two complete, continuous gene-expression profiles. A web-based implementation of RRHO can be accessed at

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