Estimation of alternative splicing variability in human populations

TitleEstimation of alternative splicing variability in human populations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsGonzalez-Porta M, Calvo M, Sammeth M, Guigo R
JournalGenome research
Date Published11/2012

DNA arrays have been widely used to perform transcriptome wide analysis of gene expression and many methods have been developed to measure gene expression variability and to compare gene expression between conditions. As RNA-seq is also becoming increasingly popular for transcriptome characterization, the possibility exists for further quantification of individual alternative transcript isoforms, and therefore for estimating the relative ratios of alternative splice forms within a given gene. Changes in splicing ratios, even without changes in overall gene expression, may have important phenotypic effects. Here we have developed statistical methodology to measure variability in splicing ratios within conditions, to compare it between conditions and to identify genes with condition specific splicing ratios. Furthermore, we have developed methodology to deconvolute the relative contribution of variability in gene expression vs variability in splicing ratios to the overall variability of transcript abundances. As a proof of concept, we have applied this methodology to estimates of transcript abundances obtained from RNA-seq experiments in lymphoblastoid cells from Caucasian and Yoruban individuals. We have found that protein coding genes exhibit low splicing variability within populations, with many genes exhibiting constant ratios across individuals. When comparing these two populations, we have found that up to 10% of the studied protein coding genes exhibit population-specific splicing ratios. We estimate that about 60% of the total variability observed in the abundance of transcript isoforms can be explained by variability in transcription. A large fraction of the remaining variability can likely result from variability in splicing. Finally, we also detected that variability in splicing is uncommon without variability in transcription.