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BACKGROUND: Deep transcriptome analysis will underpin a large fraction of post-genomic biology. 'Closed' technologies, such as microarray analysis, only detect the set of transcripts chosen for analysis, whereas 'open' e.g. tag-based technologies are capable of identifying all possible transcripts, including those that were previously uncharacterized. Although new technologies are now emerging, at present the major resources for open-type analysis are the many publicly available SAGE (serial analysis of gene expression) and MPSS (massively parallel signature sequencing) libraries. These technologies have never been compared for their utility in the context of deep transcriptome mining. RESULTS: We used a single LongSAGE library of 503,431 tags and a "classic" MPSS library of 1,744,173 tags, both prepared from the same T cell-derived RNA sample, to compare the ability of each method to probe, at considerable depth, a human cellular transcriptome. We show that even though LongSAGE is more error-prone than MPSS, our LongSAGE library nevertheless generated 6.3-fold more genome-matching (and therefore likely error-free) tags than the MPSS library. An analysis of a set of 8,132 known genes detectable by both methods, and for which there is no ambiguity about tag matching, shows that MPSS detects only half (54%) the number of transcripts identified by SAGE (3,617 versus 1,955). Analysis of two additional MPSS libraries shows that each library samples a different subset of transcripts, and that in combination the three MPSS libraries (4,274,992 tags in total) still only detect 73% of the genes identified in our test set using SAGE. The fraction of transcripts detected by MPSS is likely to be even lower for uncharacterized transcripts, which tend to be more weakly expressed. The source of the loss of complexity in MPSS libraries compared to SAGE is unclear, but its effects become more severe with each sequencing cycle (i.e. as MPSS tag length increases). CONCLUSION: We show that MPSS libraries are significantly less complex than much smaller SAGE libraries, revealing a serious bias in the generation of MPSS data unlikely to have been circumvented by later technological improvements. Our results emphasize the need for the rigorous testing of new expression profiling technologies.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Genomics

Publication Date





Chromosome Mapping, Computational Biology, Databases, Genetic, Expressed Sequence Tags, Gene Expression Profiling, Genome, Human, Humans