Motivation: The translational landscape of diverse cellular systems remains largely uncharacterized. A detailed understanding of the control of gene expression at the level of messenger RNA translation is vital to elucidating a systems-level view of complex molecular programs in the cell. Establishing the degree to which such post-transcriptional regulation can mediate specific phenotypes is similarly critical to elucidating the molecular pathogenesis of diseases such as cancer. Recently, methods for massively parallel sequencing of ribosome-bound fragments of messenger RNA have begun to uncover genome-wide translational control at codon resolution. Despite its promise for deeply characterizing mammalian proteomes, few analytical methods exist for the comprehensive analysis of this paired RNA and ribosome data.
Results: We describe the Babel framework, an analytical methodology for assessing the significance of changes in translational regulation within cells and between conditions. This approach facilitates the analysis of translation genome-wide while allowing statistically principled gene-level inference. Babel is based on an errors-in-variables regression model that uses the negative binomial distribution and draws inference using a parametric bootstrap approach. We demonstrate the operating characteristics of Babel on simulated data and use its gene-level inference to extend prior analyses significantly, discovering new translationally regulated modules under mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway signaling control.