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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Dec 14;107(50):21487-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006821107. Epub 2010 Nov 29.

Identification of differential translation in genome wide studies.

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Department of Biochemistry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1A3, Canada.


Regulation of gene expression through translational control is a fundamental mechanism implicated in many biological processes ranging from memory formation to innate immunity and whose dysregulation contributes to human diseases. Genome wide analyses of translational control strive to identify differential translation independent of cytosolic mRNA levels. For this reason, most studies measure genes' translation levels as log ratios (translation levels divided by corresponding cytosolic mRNA levels obtained in parallel). Counterintuitively, arising from a mathematical necessity, these log ratios tend to be highly correlated with the cytosolic mRNA levels. Accordingly, they do not effectively correct for cytosolic mRNA level and generate substantial numbers of biological false positives and false negatives. We show that analysis of partial variance, which produces estimates of translational activity that are independent of cytosolic mRNA levels, is a superior alternative. When combined with a variance shrinkage method for estimating error variance, analysis of partial variance has the additional benefit of having greater statistical power and identifying fewer genes as translationally regulated resulting merely from unrealistically low variance estimates rather than from large changes in translational activity. In contrast to log ratios, this formal analytical approach estimates translation effects in a statistically rigorous manner, eliminates the need for inefficient and error-prone heuristics, and produces results that agree with biological function. The method is applicable to datasets obtained from both the commonly used polysome microarray method and the sequencing-based ribosome profiling method.

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