Benchmark of long non-coding RNA quantification for RNA sequencing of cancer samples
Hong Zheng 1 , Kevin Brennan 1 , Mikel Hernaez 2 , Olivier Gevaert 1 3
Background: Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are emerging as important regulators of various biological processes. While many studies have exploited public resources such as RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) data in The Cancer Genome Atlas to study lncRNAs in cancer, it is crucial to choose the optimal method for accurate expression quantification.
Results: In this study, we compared the performance of pseudoalignment methods Kallisto and Salmon, alignment-based transcript quantification method RSEM, and alignment-based gene quantification methods HTSeq and featureCounts, in combination with read aligners STAR, Subread, and HISAT2, in lncRNA quantification, by applying them to both un-stranded and stranded RNA-Seq datasets.
Full transcriptome annotation, including protein-coding and non-coding RNAs, greatly improves the specificity of lncRNA expression quantification. Pseudoalignment methods and RSEM outperform HTSeq and featureCounts for lncRNA quantification at both sample- and gene-level comparison, regardless of RNA-Seq protocol type, choice of aligners, and transcriptome annotation. Pseudoalignment methods and RSEM detect more lncRNAs and correlate highly with simulated ground truth.
On the contrary, HTSeq and featureCounts often underestimate lncRNA expression. Antisense lncRNAs are poorly quantified by alignment-based gene quantification methods, which can be improved using stranded protocols and pseudoalignment methods.
Conclusions: Considering the consistency with ground truth and computational resources, pseudoalignment methods Kallisto or Salmon in combination with full transcriptome annotation is our recommended strategy for RNA-Seq analysis for lncRNAs.