An Introduction to RNAseq

RNAseq uses the capability of next generation sequencing techniques to explore and/or quantify expression. The information stored in the DNA is organized into genes which are used to encode proteins, the functional products necessary for cell function. Although all cells contain the same DNA, the gene expression varies widely across cell types and cell states. Different biological conditions/disorders, as well as mutations, can influence the on/off state of genes as well as how much certain genes are turned on or off.

RNAseq data can be used to study the transcriptome which is defined as a collection of all the transcript readouts from a cell. The transcriptome data can be utilized for many types of analyses. In this lesson we will focus on one such application: Differential Gene Expression (DGE) analysis in order to determine which genes are expressed at different levels between the conditions/groups of interest. The identified genes offer biological insight into the processes and pathways affected by the chosen experimental conditions.

A typical RNAseq workflow is highlighted in the schematic diagram below. The orange boxes highlight the steps you will do in this tutorial!

RNAseq workflow

The first steps involve extraction, purification, and quality checks of RNA from the biological samples, followed by library preparation to convert the RNA to cDNA (complimentary DNA) fragments which are then sequenced. The generated raw reads are quality checked and aligned against either a reference genome/transcriptome (if available) or used for de novo assembly. The expression abundance estimates are generated and if done at transcript level, the values are summarized for gene-level analysis. The expression count data is used for statistical modeling and testing to identify differentially expressed genes which can be examined further via visualization and downstream functional analysis.

RNAseq Resources

Learn more about RNAseq through this video tutorial by StatQuest. You can also follow this end to end RNAseq workflow that uses well known Bioconductor packages.

Experimental Plan

In this tutorial, we will evaluate the difference between pediatric Medulloblastoma vs Ependymoma.


  • is a common malignant childhood brain tumor
  • typically occurs in the 4th ventricle region of the brain
  • has five different histological types
  • subtypes impact the prognosis and response to therapy


  • is a broad group of tumors
  • often arises from lining of the ventricles in the brain
  • can also occur in the central canal in the spinal cord
  • anatomical distribution impacts prognosis

We will use the Kids First Data Portal (KF Portal) to build a virtual cohort containing the two pediatric cancers and select pre-processed transcript abundance files. We will then proceed with analysis on Cavatica, the integrated cloud based platform.

Last update: February 24, 2021