Beta-Poisson model for single-cell RNA-seq data analyses

Trung Nghia Vu, Quin F. Wills, Krishna R. Kalari, Nifang Niu, Liewei Wang, Mattias Rantalainen, Yudi Pawitan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Motivation: Single-cell RNA-sequencing technology allows detection of gene expression at the single-cell level. One typical feature of the data is a bimodality in the cellular distribution even for highly expressed genes, primarily caused by a proportion of non-expressing cells. The standard and the over-dispersed gamma-Poisson models that are commonly used in bulk-cell RNA-sequencing are not able to capture this property. Results: We introduce a beta-Poisson mixture model that can capture the bimodality of the single-cell gene expression distribution. We further integrate the model into the generalized linear model framework in order to perform differential expression analyses. The whole analytical procedure is called BPSC. The results from several real single-cell RNA-seq datasets indicate that ∼90% of the transcripts are well characterized by the beta-Poisson model; the model-fit from BPSC is better than the fit of the standard gamma-Poisson model in > 80% of the transcripts. Moreover, in differential expression analyses of simulated and real datasets, BPSC performs well against edgeR, a conventional method widely used in bulk-cell RNA-sequencing data, and against scde and MAST, two recent methods specifically designed for single-cell RNA-seq data. Availability and Implementation: An R package BPSC for model fitting and differential expression analyses of single-cell RNA-seq data is available under GPL-3 license at Contact: or Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2128-2135
Number of pages8
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Computational Mathematics


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