We provide a large-scale dataset on absolute protein and matching mRNA concentrations from the human medulloblastoma cell line Daoy. The correlation between mRNA and protein concentrations is significant and positive (Rs=0.46, R2=0.29, P-value<2e16), although non-linear.Out of ∼200 tested sequence features, sequence length, frequency and properties of amino acids, as well as translation initiation-related features are the strongest individual correlates of protein abundance when accounting for variation in mRNA concentration.When integrating mRNA expression data and all sequence features into a non-parametric regression model (Multivariate Adaptive Regression Splines), we were able to explain up to 67% of the variation in protein concentrations. Half of the contributions were attributed to mRNA concentrations, the other half to sequence features relating to regulation of translation and protein degradation. The sequence features are primarily linked to the coding and 3′ untranslated region. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive predictive model of human protein concentrations achieved so far.
mRNA decay, translation regulation and protein degradation are essential parts of eukaryotic gene expression regulation (Hieronymus and Silver, 2004; Mata et al, 2005), which enable the dynamics of cellular systems and their responses to external and internal stimuli without having to rely exclusively on transcription regulation. The importance of these processes is emphasized by the generally low correlation between mRNA and protein concentrations. For many prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms, <50% of variation in protein abundance variation is explained by variation in mRNA concentrations (de Sousa Abreu et al, 2009).
Given the plethora of regulatory mechanisms involved, most studies have focused so far on individual regulators and specific targets. Particularly in human, we currently lack system-wide, quantitative analyses that evaluate the relative contribution of regulatory elements encoded in the mRNA and protein sequence. Existing studies have been carried out only in bacteria and yeast (Nie et al, 2006; Brockmann et al, 2007; Tuller et al, 2007; Wu et al, 2008). Here, we present the first comprehensive analysis on the impact of translation and protein degradation on protein abundance variation in a human cell line. For this purpose, we experimentally measured absolute protein and mRNA concentrations in the Daoy medulloblastoma cell line, using shotgun proteomics and microarrays, respectively (Figure 1). These data comprise one of the largest such sets available today for human. We focused on sequence features that likely impact protein translation and protein degradation, including length, nucleotide composition, structure of the untranslated regions (UTRs), coding sequence, composition of the translation initiation site, presence of upstream open reading frames putative target sites of miRNAs, codon usage, amino-acid composition and protein degradation signals.
Three types of tests have been conducted: (a) we examined partial Spearman's rank correlation of numerical features (e.g. length) with protein concentration, accounting for variation in mRNA concentrations; (b) for numerical and categorical features (e.g. function), we compared two extreme populations with Welch's t-test and (c) using a Multivariate Adaptive Regression Splines model, we analyzed the combined contributions of mRNA expression and sequence features to protein abundance variation (Figure 1). To account for the non-linearity of many relationships, we use non-parametric approaches throughout the analysis.
We observed a significant positive correlation between mRNA and protein concentrations, larger than many previous measurements (de Sousa Abreu et al, 2009). We also show that the contribution of translation and protein degradation is at least as important as the contribution of mRNA transcription and stability to the abundance variation of the final protein products. Although variation in mRNA expression explains ∼25–30% of the variation in protein abundance, another 30–40% can be accounted for by characteristics of the sequences, which we identified in a comparative assessment of global correlates. Among these characteristics, sequence length, amino-acid frequencies and also nucleotide frequencies in the coding region are of strong influence (Figure 3A). Characteristics of the 3′UTR and of the 5′UTR, that is length, nucleotide composition and secondary structures, describe another part of the variation, leaving 33% expression variation unexplained. The unexplained fraction may be accounted for by mechanisms not considered in this analysis (e.g. regulation by RNA-binding proteins or gene-specific structural motifs), as well as expression and measurement noise.
Our combined model including mRNA concentration and sequence features can explain 67% of the variation of protein abundance in this system—and thus has the highest predictive power for human protein abundance achieved so far (Figure 3B).
Transcription, mRNA decay, translation and protein degradation are essential processes during eukaryotic gene expression, but their relative global contributions to steady-state protein concentrations in multi-cellular eukaryotes are largely unknown. Using measurements of absolute protein and mRNA abundances in cellular lysate from the human Daoy medulloblastoma cell line, we quantitatively evaluate the impact of mRNA concentration and sequence features implicated in translation and protein degradation on protein expression. Sequence features related to translation and protein degradation have an impact similar to that of mRNA abundance, and their combined contribution explains two-thirds of protein abundance variation. mRNA sequence lengths, amino-acid properties, upstream open reading frames and secondary structures in the 5′ untranslated region (UTR) were the strongest individual correlates of protein concentrations. In a combined model, characteristics of the coding region and the 3′UTR explained a larger proportion of protein abundance variation than characteristics of the 5′UTR. The absolute protein and mRNA concentration measurements for >1000 human genes described here represent one of the largest datasets currently available, and reveal both general trends and specific examples of post-transcriptional regulation.