Background: Determining the expression levels of microRNAs (miRNAs) is of great interest to researchers in many areas of biology, given the significant roles these molecules play in cellular regulation. Two common methods for measuring miRNAs in a total RNA sample are microarrays and quantitative RT-PCR (qPCR). To understand the results of studies that use these two different techniques to measure miRNAs, it is important to understand how well the results of these two analysis methods correlate. Since both methods use total RNA as a starting material, it is also critical to understand how measurement of miRNAs might be affected by the particular method of total RNA preparation used.
Results: We measured the expression of 470 human miRNAs in nine human tissues using Agilent microarrays, and compared these results to qPCR profiles of 61 miRNAs in the same tissues. Most expressed miRNAs (53/60) correlated well (R > 0.9) between the two methods. Using spiked-in synthetic miRNAs, we further examined the two miRNAs with the lowest correlations, and found the differences cannot be attributed to differential sensitivity of the two methods. We also tested three widely-used total RNA sample prep methods using miRNA microarrays. We found that while almost all miRNA levels correspond between the three methods, there were a few miRNAs whose levels consistently differed between the different prep techniques when measured by microarray analysis. These differences were corroborated by qPCR measurements.
Conclusion: The correlations between Agilent miRNA microarray results and qPCR results are generally excellent, as are the correlations between different total RNA prep methods. However, there are a few miRNAs whose levels do not correlate between the microarray and qPCR measurements, or between different sample prep methods. Researchers should therefore take care when comparing results obtained using different analysis or sample preparation methods.