Gene-specific correlation of RNA and protein levels in human cells and tissues

Fredrik Edfors, Frida Danielsson, Björn M. Hallström, Lukas Käll, Emma Lundberg, Fredrik Ponten, Björn Forsström, Mathias Uhlén

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An important issue for molecular biology is to establish whether transcript levels of a given gene can be used as proxies for the corresponding protein levels. Here, we have developed a targeted proteomics approach for a set of human non-secreted proteins based on parallel reaction monitoring to measure, at steady-state conditions, absolute protein copy numbers across human tissues and cell lines and compared these levels with the corresponding mRNA levels using transcriptomics. The study shows that the transcript and protein levels do not correlate well unless a gene-specific RNA-to-protein (RTP) conversion factor independent of the tissue type is introduced, thus significantly enhancing the predictability of protein copy numbers from RNA levels. The results show that the RTP ratio varies significantly with a few hundred copies per mRNA molecule for some genes to several hundred thousands of protein copies per mRNA molecule for others. In conclusion, our data suggest that transcriptome analysis can be used as a tool to predict the protein copy numbers per cell, thus forming an attractive link between the field of genomics and proteomics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number883
JournalMolecular Systems Biology
Issue number10
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Gene expression
  • Protein quantification
  • Targeted proteomics
  • Transcriptomics


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