Impact of normalization on miRNA microarray expression profiling

RNA. 2009 Mar;15(3):493-501. doi: 10.1261/rna.1295509. Epub 2009 Jan 28.


Profiling miRNA levels in cells with miRNA microarrays is becoming a widely used technique. Although normalization methods for mRNA gene expression arrays are well established, miRNA array normalization has so far not been investigated in detail. In this study we investigate the impact of normalization on data generated with the Agilent miRNA array platform. We have developed a method to select nonchanging miRNAs (invariants) and use them to compute linear regression normalization coefficients or variance stabilizing normalization (VSN) parameters. We compared the invariants normalization to normalization by scaling, quantile, and VSN with default parameters as well as to no normalization using samples with strong differential expression of miRNAs (heart-brain comparison) and samples where only a few miRNAs are affected (by p53 overexpression in squamous carcinoma cells versus control). All normalization methods performed better than no normalization. Normalization procedures based on the set of invariants and quantile were the most robust over all experimental conditions tested. Our method of invariant selection and normalization is not limited to Agilent miRNA arrays and can be applied to other data sets including those from one color miRNA microarray platforms, focused gene expression arrays, and gene expression analysis using quantitative PCR.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • MicroRNAs*
  • Microarray Analysis / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • MicroRNAs