Normalization strategies for microRNA profiling experiments: a ‘normal’ way to a hidden layer of complexity?
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- Meyer, S.U., Pfaffl, M.W. & Ulbrich, S.E. Biotechnol Lett (2010) 32: 1777. doi:10.1007/s10529-010-0380-z
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MicroRNA (miRNA) profiling is a first important step in elucidating miRNA functions. Real time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) and microarray hybridization approaches as well as ultra high throughput sequencing of miRNAs (small RNA-seq) are popular and widely used profiling methods. All of these profiling approaches face significant introduction of bias. Normalization, often an underestimated aspect of data processing, can minimize systematic technical or experimental variation and thus has significant impact on the detection of differentially expressed miRNAs. At present, there is no consensus normalization method for any of the three miRNA profiling approach. Several normalization techniques are currently in use, of which some are similar to mRNA profiling normalization methods, while others are specifically modified or developed for miRNA data. The characteristic nature of miRNA molecules, their composition and the resulting data distribution of profiling experiments challenges the selection of adequate normalization techniques. Based on miRNA profiling studies and comparative studies on normalization methods and their performances, this review provides a critical overview of commonly used and newly developed normalization methods for miRNA RT-qPCR, miRNA hybridization microarray, and small RNA-seq datasets. Emphasis is laid on the complexity, the importance and the potential for further optimization of normalization techniques for miRNA profiling datasets.