High-throughput RNA interference (RNAi) screens have been used to find genes that, when silenced, result in sensitivity to certain chemotherapy drugs. Researchers therefore can further identify drug-sensitive targets and novel drug combinations that sensitize cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs. Considerable uncertainty exists about the efficiency and accuracy of statistical approaches used for RNAi hit selection in drug sensitivity studies. Researchers require statistical methods suitable for analyzing high-throughput RNAi screening data that will reduce false-positive and false-negative rates. In this study, we carried out a simulation study to evaluate four types of statistical approaches (fold-change/ratio, parametric tests/statistics, sensitivity index, and linear models) with different scenarios of RNAi screenings for drug sensitivity studies. With the simulated datasets, the linear model resulted in significantly lower false-negative and false-positive rates. Based on the results of the simulation study, we then make recommendations of statistical analysis methods for high-throughput RNAi screening data in different scenarios. We assessed promising methods using real data from a loss-of-function RNAi screen to identify hits that modulate paclitaxel sensitivity in breast cancer cells. High-confidence hits with specific inhibitors were further analyzed for their ability to inhibit breast cancer cell growth. Our analysis identified a number of gene targets with inhibitors known to enhance paclitaxel sensitivity, suggesting other genes identified may merit further investigation. RNAi screening can identify druggable targets and novel drug combinations that can sensitize cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs. However, applying an inappropriate statistical method or model to the RNAi screening data will result in decreased power to detect the true hits and increase false positive and false negative rates, leading researchers to draw incorrect conclusions. In this paper, we make recommendations to enable more objective selection of statistical analysis methods for high-throughput RNAi screening data.
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