RNAscope®, has emerged as an important in-situ hybridisation method to validate mRNA expression within single cells whilst preserving tissue morphology in histological samples. The aim of this research was to compare the utility of various open-source and commercial image analysis methods, to quantify mRNA transcripts identified by RNAscope within formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) histological samples and cell monolayer preparations. Examination of MLH1 expression from 10 histological FFPE colorectal cancer specimens using four image analysis tools (Colour Deconvolution, SpotStudio, WEKA and the LEICA RNA-ISH algorithm) showed the WEKA tool as having the greatest level of agreement with manual quantification. Comparing image analysis methods to qRT-PCR for quantifying MLH1, GFI1 and TNFRSF11A expression within two colorectal cell lines results suggest that these image analysis methods perform at a similar level to qRT-PCR. Furthermore, we describe the strengths and limitations for each image analysis method when used in combination with RNAscope assays. Our study concludes that there are several freely available and commercial image analysis tools that enable reliable RNA in situ expression analysis, however operators need to consider factors, such as expected expression levels of target genes, software usability and functionality.
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