The concordance of RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) with microarrays for genome-wide analysis of differential gene expression has not been rigorously assessed using a range of chemical treatment conditions. Here we use a comprehensive study design to generate Illumina RNA-seq and Affymetrix microarray data from the same liver samples of rats exposed in triplicate to varying degrees of perturbation by 27 chemicals representing multiple modes of action (MOAs). The cross-platform concordance in terms of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) or enriched pathways is linearly correlated with treatment effect size (R20.8). Furthermore, the concordance is also affected by transcript abundance and biological complexity of the MOA. RNA-seq outperforms microarray (93% versus 75%) in DEG verification as assessed by quantitative PCR, with the gain mainly due to its improved accuracy for low-abundance transcripts. Nonetheless, classifiers to predict MOAs perform similarly when developed using data from either platform. Therefore, the endpoint studied and its biological complexity, transcript abundance and the genomic application are important factors in transcriptomic research and for clinical and regulatory decision making.

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We thank M. Arana and D. Mendrick for their critical review of the manuscript. This research was supported, in part, by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) (ES102345-04 and ES023026) and National Library of Medicine. P.P.Ł. and D.P.K. acknowledge support by the Vienna Scientific Cluster (VSC), the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF), Baxter AG, Austrian Research Centres (ARC) Seibersdorf and the Austrian Centre of Biopharmaceutical Technology (ACBT).

Author information

Author notes

    • Charles Wang
    • , Binsheng Gong
    •  & Pierre R Bushel

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Center for Genomics and Division of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, School of Medicine, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, USA.

    • Charles Wang
  2. Division of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics, National Center for Toxicological Research, US Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, Arkansas, USA.

    • Binsheng Gong
    • , Joshua Xu
    • , Huixiao Hong
    • , Jie Shen
    • , Zhenqiang Su
    • , Joe Meehan
    • , Leming Shi
    •  & Weida Tong
  3. Microarray and Genome Informatics Group, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

    • Pierre R Bushel
    •  & Jianying Li
  4. Biostatistics Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

    • Pierre R Bushel
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

    • Jean Thierry-Mieg
    •  & Danielle Thierry-Mieg
  6. The Office of Scientific Coordination, National Center for Toxicological Research, US Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, Arkansas, USA.

    • Hong Fang
  7. Functional Genomics Core, Department of Molecular Medicine, Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, Duarte, California, USA.

    • Xiaojin Li
    • , Lu Yang
    •  & Haiqing Li
  8. Chair of Bioinformatics Research Group, Boku University Vienna, Vienna, Austria.

    • Paweł P Łabaj
    •  & David P Kreil
  9. University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.

    • David P Kreil
  10. CMINDS Research Center, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Francis College of Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Dalila Megherbi
  11. Department of Toxicogenomics, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands.

    • Stan Gaj
    • , Florian Caiment
    • , Joost van Delft
    •  & Jos Kleinjans
  12. Australian Genome Research Facility Ltd., The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia.

    • Andreas Scherer
  13. AbbVie, Inc., North Chicago, Illinois, USA.

    • Viswanath Devanarayan
  14. Research Informatics and Statistics, Eli Lilly and Company, Lilly Corporate Center, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

    • Jian Wang
    • , Yong Yang
    •  & Hui-Rong Qian
  15. Thomson Reuters, IP & Science, Carlsbad, California, USA.

    • Lee J Lancashire
    •  & Marina Bessarabova
  16. Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, Russia.

    • Yuri Nikolsky
  17. Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Trento, Italy.

    • Cesare Furlanello
    • , Marco Chierici
    • , Davide Albanese
    • , Giuseppe Jurman
    • , Samantha Riccadonna
    • , Michele Filosi
    •  & Roberto Visintainer
  18. Computational Biology Department, Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach (FEM), San Michele all'Adige, Italy.

    • Davide Albanese
    •  & Samantha Riccadonna
  19. Bioinformatics core, Department of Pathology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA.

    • Ke K Zhang
  20. Kelly Government Solutions, Inc., Durham, North Carolina, USA.

    • Jianying Li
  21. Biomolecular Screening Branch, Division of the National Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

    • Jui-Hua Hsieh
    •  & Scott S Auerbach
  22. SRA International, Durham, North Carolina, USA.

    • Daniel L Svoboda
  23. Division of Systems Biology, National Center for Toxicological Research, US Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, Arkansas, USA.

    • James C Fuscoe
  24. Department of Internal Medicine and Biochemistry, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

    • Youping Deng
  25. State Key Laboratory of Genetic Engineering and MOE Key Laboratory of Contemporary Anthropology, Schools of Life Sciences and Pharmacy, Fudan University, Shanghai, China (L.S.'s primary affiliation).

    • Leming Shi
  26. Laboratory of Toxicology and Pharmacology, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

    • Richard S Paules


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W.T. coordinated the consortium study and manuscript preparation. W.T., S.S.A. and C.W. designed the study. C.W. conducted sequencing and qPCR experiments. S.S.A. provided rat tissue samples, gene expression data and contributed to the data analysis. P.R.B. was involved heavily in manuscript preparation and data analysis. B.G. and J.X. conducted the majority of data analysis and prepared various figures and supplementary materials. J.T.M. and D.T.M. constructed the mapping table between microarray and RNA-seq along with other data analysis and interpretation. All the co-authors contributed to various components of the study, including data analysis and preparation of text, figures, tables and supplementary materials.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Pierre R Bushel or Scott S Auerbach or Weida Tong.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Text and Figures

    Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary Tables 1, 2, 4–9, 12, 13 and Supplementary Notes 1–6

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 3

    RNA-seq data and mapping status summary based on data analysis pipeline P1

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 10

    List of transcripts with shortened 3' UTRs detected from the samples treated by chemicals PHE and PIR

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Table 11

    List of differentially spliced isoforms detected in samples treated by chemicals PHE and PIR

  4. 4.

    Supplementary Table 14

    Master table for mapping Affymetrix probesets to RNA-seq gene annotations

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