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. 2011 Aug 4;12:323.
doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-12-323.

RSEM: Accurate Transcript Quantification From RNA-Seq Data With or Without a Reference Genome

Free PMC article

RSEM: Accurate Transcript Quantification From RNA-Seq Data With or Without a Reference Genome

Bo Li et al. BMC Bioinformatics. .
Free PMC article


Background: RNA-Seq is revolutionizing the way transcript abundances are measured. A key challenge in transcript quantification from RNA-Seq data is the handling of reads that map to multiple genes or isoforms. This issue is particularly important for quantification with de novo transcriptome assemblies in the absence of sequenced genomes, as it is difficult to determine which transcripts are isoforms of the same gene. A second significant issue is the design of RNA-Seq experiments, in terms of the number of reads, read length, and whether reads come from one or both ends of cDNA fragments.

Results: We present RSEM, an user-friendly software package for quantifying gene and isoform abundances from single-end or paired-end RNA-Seq data. RSEM outputs abundance estimates, 95% credibility intervals, and visualization files and can also simulate RNA-Seq data. In contrast to other existing tools, the software does not require a reference genome. Thus, in combination with a de novo transcriptome assembler, RSEM enables accurate transcript quantification for species without sequenced genomes. On simulated and real data sets, RSEM has superior or comparable performance to quantification methods that rely on a reference genome. Taking advantage of RSEM's ability to effectively use ambiguously-mapping reads, we show that accurate gene-level abundance estimates are best obtained with large numbers of short single-end reads. On the other hand, estimates of the relative frequencies of isoforms within single genes may be improved through the use of paired-end reads, depending on the number of possible splice forms for each gene.

Conclusions: RSEM is an accurate and user-friendly software tool for quantifying transcript abundances from RNA-Seq data. As it does not rely on the existence of a reference genome, it is particularly useful for quantification with de novo transcriptome assemblies. In addition, RSEM has enabled valuable guidance for cost-efficient design of quantification experiments with RNA-Seq, which is currently relatively expensive.


Figure 1
Figure 1
The RSEM software workflow. The standard RSEM workflow (indicated by the solid arrows) consists of running just two programs (rsem-prepare-reference and rsem-calculate-expression), which automate the use of Bowtie for read alignment. Workflows with an alternative alignment program additionally use the steps connected by the dashed arrows. Two additional programs, rsem-bam2wig and rsem-plot-model, allow for visualizing the output of RSEM. RNA-Seq data can also be simulated with RSEM via the workflow indicated by the dotted arrows.
Figure 2
Figure 2
RSEM visualizations in the UCSC Genome Browser. Example visualizations of RSEM output from mouse RNA-Seq data set SRR065546 in the UCSC Genome Browser. (A) Simultaneous visualization of the wiggle output, which gives the expected read depth at each position in the genome, and the BAM output, which gives probabilistically-weighted read alignments. In the BAM track, paired reads are connected by a thin black line and the darkness of the read indicates the posterior probability of its alignment (black meaning high probability). (B) An example gene for which the expected read depth (top track) differs greatly from the read depth computed from uniquely-mapping reads only (bottom track).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Accuracy of four RNA-Seq quantification methods. The percent error distributions of estimates from RSEM, IsoEM, Cufflinks, and rQuant on simulated RNA-Seq data. The error distributions of global isoform and gene estimates from PE data are shown in (A) and (B), respectively. Global isoform and gene estimate error distributions for SE data are shown in (C) and (D), respectively.
Figure 4
Figure 4
The directed graphical model used by RSEM. The model consists of N sets of random variables, one per sequenced RNA-Seq fragment. For fragment n, its parent transcript, length, start position, and orientation are represented by the latent variables Gn, Fn, Sn and On respectively. For PE data, the observed variables (shaded circles), are the read lengths (formula image and formula image), quality scores (formula image and formula image), and sequences (formula image and formula image). For SE data, formula image, formula image, and formula image are unobserved. The primary parameters of the model are given by the vector θ, which represents the prior probabilities of a fragment being derived from each transcript.

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