Is this the right normalization? A diagnostic tool for ChIP-seq normalization

Claudia Angelini*, Ruth Heller, Rita Volkinshtein, Daniel Yekutieli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Chip-seq experiments are becoming a standard approach for genome-wide profiling protein-DNA interactions, such as detecting transcription factor binding sites, histone modification marks and RNA Polymerase II occupancy. However, when comparing a ChIP sample versus a control sample, such as Input DNA, normalization procedures have to be applied in order to remove experimental source of biases. Despite the substantial impact that the choice of the normalization method can have on the results of a ChIP-seq data analysis, their assessment is not fully explored in the literature. In particular, there are no diagnostic tools that show whether the applied normalization is indeed appropriate for the data being analyzed. Results: In this work we propose a novel diagnostic tool to examine the appropriateness of the estimated normalization procedure. By plotting the empirical densities of log relative risks in bins of equal read count, along with the estimated normalization constant, after logarithmic transformation, the researcher is able to assess the appropriateness of the estimated normalization constant. We use the diagnostic plot to evaluate the appropriateness of the estimates obtained by CisGenome, NCIS and CCAT on several real data examples. Moreover, we show the impact that the choice of the normalization constant can have on standard tools for peak calling such as MACS or SICER. Finally, we propose a novel procedure for controlling the FDR using sample swapping. This procedure makes use of the estimated normalization constant in order to gain power over the naive choice of constant (used in MACS and SICER), which is the ratio of the total number of reads in the ChIP and Input samples. Conclusions: Linear normalization approaches aim to estimate a scale factor, r, to adjust for different sequencing depths when comparing ChIP versus Input samples. The estimated scaling factor can easily be incorporated in many peak caller algorithms to improve the accuracy of the peak identification. The diagnostic plot proposed in this paper can be used to assess how adequate ChIP/Input normalization constants are, and thus it allows the user to choose the most adequate estimate for the analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150
JournalBMC Bioinformatics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 9 May 2015


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation2012896
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche


    • Chip-Seq
    • Diagnostic plots
    • Normalization


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