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Distributional fold change test – a statistical approach for detecting differential expression in microarray experiments

Vadim Farztdinov* and Fionnuala McDyer

Author Affiliations

Almac Diagnostics, 19 Seagoe Industrial Estate, Craigavon, BT63 5QD, UK

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Algorithms for Molecular Biology 2012, 7:29  doi:10.1186/1748-7188-7-29

Published: 2 November 2012

Abstract

Background

Because of the large volume of data and the intrinsic variation of data intensity observed in microarray experiments, different statistical methods have been used to systematically extract biological information and to quantify the associated uncertainty. The simplest method to identify differentially expressed genes is to evaluate the ratio of average intensities in two different conditions and consider all genes that differ by more than an arbitrary cut-off value to be differentially expressed. This filtering approach is not a statistical test and there is no associated value that can indicate the level of confidence in the designation of genes as differentially expressed or not differentially expressed. At the same time the fold change by itself provide valuable information and it is important to find unambiguous ways of using this information in expression data treatment.

Results

A new method of finding differentially expressed genes, called distributional fold change (DFC) test is introduced. The method is based on an analysis of the intensity distribution of all microarray probe sets mapped to a three dimensional feature space composed of average expression level, average difference of gene expression and total variance. The proposed method allows one to rank each feature based on the signal-to-noise ratio and to ascertain for each feature the confidence level and power for being differentially expressed. The performance of the new method was evaluated using the total and partial area under receiver operating curves and tested on 11 data sets from Gene Omnibus Database with independently verified differentially expressed genes and compared with the t-test and shrinkage t-test. Overall the DFC test performed the best – on average it had higher sensitivity and partial AUC and its elevation was most prominent in the low range of differentially expressed features, typical for formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded sample sets.

Conclusions

The distributional fold change test is an effective method for finding and ranking differentially expressed probesets on microarrays. The application of this test is advantageous to data sets using formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded samples or other systems where degradation effects diminish the applicability of correlation adjusted methods to the whole feature set.

Keywords:
Differential expression; Microarray; Feature selection; Fold change; Statistical test; ROC curve; FFPE