Background: High-throughput profiling of DNA methylation status of CpG islands is crucial to understand the epigenetic regulation of genes. The microarray-based Infinium methylation assay by Illumina is one platform for low-cost high-throughput methylation profiling. Both Beta-value and M-value statistics have been used as metrics to measure methylation levels. However, there are no detailed studies of their relations and their strengths and limitations.
Results: We demonstrate that the relationship between the Beta-value and M-value methods is a Logit transformation, and show that the Beta-value method has severe heteroscedasticity for highly methylated or unmethylated CpG sites. In order to evaluate the performance of the Beta-value and M-value methods for identifying differentially methylated CpG sites, we designed a methylation titration experiment. The evaluation results show that the M-value method provides much better performance in terms of Detection Rate (DR) and True Positive Rate (TPR) for both highly methylated and unmethylated CpG sites. Imposing a minimum threshold of difference can improve the performance of the M-value method but not the Beta-value method. We also provide guidance for how to select the threshold of methylation differences.
Conclusions: The Beta-value has a more intuitive biological interpretation, but the M-value is more statistically valid for the differential analysis of methylation levels. Therefore, we recommend using the M-value method for conducting differential methylation analysis and including the Beta-value statistics when reporting the results to investigators.