Gene expression profiling is a useful tool to predict and interrogate mechanisms of toxicity. RNA-Seq technology has emerged as an attractive alternative to traditional microarray platforms for conducting transcriptional profiling. The objective of this work was to compare both transcriptomic platforms to determine whether RNA-Seq offered significant advantages over microarrays for toxicogenomic studies. RNA samples from the livers of rats treated for 5 days with five tool hepatotoxicants (α-naphthylisothiocyanate/ANIT, carbon tetrachloride/CCl4, methylenedianiline/MDA, acetaminophen/APAP, and diclofenac/DCLF) were analyzed with both gene expression platforms (RNA-Seq and microarray). Data were compared to determine any potential added scientific (i.e., better biological or toxicological insight) value offered by RNA-Seq compared to microarrays. RNA-Seq identified more differentially expressed protein-coding genes and provided a wider quantitative range of expression level changes when compared to microarrays. Both platforms identified a larger number of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in livers of rats treated with ANIT, MDA, and CCl4 compared to APAP and DCLF, in agreement with the severity of histopathological findings. Approximately 78% of DEGs identified with microarrays overlapped with RNA-Seq data, with a Spearman's correlation of 0.7 to 0.83. Consistent with the mechanisms of toxicity of ANIT, APAP, MDA and CCl4, both platforms identified dysregulation of liver relevant pathways such as Nrf2, cholesterol biosynthesis, eiF2, hepatic cholestasis, glutathione and LPS/IL-1 mediated RXR inhibition. RNA-Seq data showed additional DEGs that not only significantly enriched these pathways, but also suggested modulation of additional liver relevant pathways. In addition, RNA-Seq enabled the identification of non-coding DEGs that offer a potential for improved mechanistic clarity. Overall, these results indicate that RNA-Seq is an acceptable alternative platform to microarrays for rat toxicogenomic studies with several advantages. Because of its wider dynamic range as well as its ability to identify a larger number of DEGs, RNA-Seq may generate more insight into mechanisms of toxicity. However, more extensive reference data will be necessary to fully leverage these additional RNA-Seq data, especially for non-coding sequences.
Keywords: DEG; IPA; RNA-Seq; in vivo; liver toxicity; microarray; non-coding transcripts; toxicogenomics.