Evaluation of normalization methods in mammalian microRNA-Seq data

RNA. 2012 Jun;18(6):1279-88. doi: 10.1261/rna.030916.111. Epub 2012 Apr 24.


Simple total tag count normalization is inadequate for microRNA sequencing data generated from the next generation sequencing technology. However, so far systematic evaluation of normalization methods on microRNA sequencing data is lacking. We comprehensively evaluate seven commonly used normalization methods including global normalization, Lowess normalization, Trimmed Mean Method (TMM), quantile normalization, scaling normalization, variance stabilization, and invariant method. We assess these methods on two individual experimental data sets with the empirical statistical metrics of mean square error (MSE) and Kolmogorov-Smirnov (K-S) statistic. Additionally, we evaluate the methods with results from quantitative PCR validation. Our results consistently show that Lowess normalization and quantile normalization perform the best, whereas TMM, a method applied to the RNA-Sequencing normalization, performs the worst. The poor performance of TMM normalization is further evidenced by abnormal results from the test of differential expression (DE) of microRNA-Seq data. Comparing with the models used for DE, the choice of normalization method is the primary factor that affects the results of DE. In summary, Lowess normalization and quantile normalization are recommended for normalizing microRNA-Seq data, whereas the TMM method should be used with caution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • MicroRNAs / chemistry*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / statistics & numerical data*


  • MicroRNAs