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Mining the archives: a cross-platform analysis of gene expression profiles in archival formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue

By Anna Francina Webster, Paul Zumbo, Jennifer Fostel, Jorge Gandara, Susan D Hester, Leslie Recio, Andrew Williams, Chales E. Wood, Carole L. Yauk, Christopher E Mason

Posted 24 May 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/019794 (published DOI: 10.1093/toxsci/kfv195)

Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples represent a potentially invaluable resource for transcriptomic-based research into the molecular basis of disease. However, use of FFPE samples in gene expression studies has been limited by technical challenges resulting from degradation of nucleic acids. Here we evaluated gene expression profiles derived from fresh-frozen (FRO) and FFPE mouse liver tissues using two DNA microarray protocols and two whole transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) library preparation methodologies. The ribo-depletion protocol outperformed the other three methods by having the highest correlations of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) and best overlap of pathways between FRO and FFPE groups. We next tested the effect of sample time in formalin (18 hours or 3 weeks) on gene expression profiles. Hierarchical clustering of the datasets indicated that test article treatment, and not preservation method, was the main driver of gene expression profiles. Meta- and pathway analyses indicated that biological responses were generally consistent for 18-hour and 3-week FFPE samples compared to FRO samples. However, clear erosion of signal intensity with time in formalin was evident, and DEG numbers differed by platform and preservation method. Lastly, we investigated the effect of age in FFPE block on genomic profiles. RNA-seq analysis of 8-, 19-, and 26-year-old control blocks using the ribo-depletion protocol resulted in comparable quality metrics, including expected distributions of mapped reads to exonic, UTR, intronic, and ribosomal fractions of the transcriptome. Overall, our results suggest that FFPE samples are appropriate for use in genomic studies in which frozen samples are not available, and that ribo-depletion RNA-seq is the preferred method for this type of analysis in archival and long-aged FFPE samples.

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