How is mRNA expression predictive for protein expression? A correlation study on human circulating monocytes

Yanfang Guo, Peng Xiao, Shufeng Lei, Feiyan Deng, Gary Guishan Xiao, Yaozhong Liu, Xiangding Chen, Liming Li, Shan Wu, Yuan Chen, Hui Jiang, Lijun Tan, Jingyun Xie, Xuezhen Zhu, Songping Liang, Hongwen Deng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

337 Scopus citations


A key assumption in studying mRNA expression is that it is informative in the prediction of protein expression. However, only limited studies have explored the mRNA-protein expression correlation in yeast or human tissues and the results have been relatively inconsistent. We carried out correlation analyses on mRNA-protein expressions in freshly isolated human circulating monocytes from 30 unrelated women. The expressed proteins for 71 genes were quantified and identified by 2-D electrophoresis coupled with mass spectrometry. The corresponding mRNA expressions were quantified by Affymetrix gene chips. Significant correlation (r=0.235, P<0.0001) was observed for the whole dataset including all studied genes and all samples. The correlations varied in different biological categories of gene ontology. For example, the highest correlation was achieved for genes of the extracellular region in terms of cellular component (r=0.643, P<0.0001) and the lowest correlation was obtained for genes of regulation (r=0.099, P=0.213) in terms of biological process. In the genome, half of the samples showed significant positive correlation for the 71 genes and significant correlation was found between the average mRNA and the average protein expression levels in all samples (r=0.296, P<0.01). However, at the study group level, only five studied genes had significant positive correlation across all the samples. Our results showed an overall positive correlation between mRNA and protein expression levels. However, the moderate and varied correlations suggest that mRNA expression might be sometimes useful, but certainly far from perfect, in predicting protein expression levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-436
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biochimica et Biophysica Sinica
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Circulating monocytes
  • Correlation
  • Gene function
  • Protein expression
  • mRNA expression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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