The normalization of high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) data is needed to accurately analyze gene expression levels. Traditional normalization methods can either correct the differences in sequencing depth, or correct both the sequencing depth and other unwanted variations introduced during sequencing library preparation through exogenous spike-ins. However, the exogenous spike-ins are prone to variation. Therefore, a better normalization approach with a more appropriate reference is an ongoing demand. In this study, we demonstrated that mitochondrial mRNA (mRNA encoded by mitochondria genome) can serve as a steady endogenous reference for RNA-seq data analysis, and performs better than exogenous spike-ins. We also found that using mitochondrial mRNA as a reference can reduce batch effects for RNA-seq data. These results provide a simple and practical normalization strategy for RNA-seq data, which will serve as a valuable tool widely applicable to transcriptomic studies.
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