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Recently, long noncoding RNA molecules (lncRNA) captured widespread attentions for their critical roles in diverse biological process and important implications in variety of human diseases and cancers. Identification and profiling of lncRNAs is a fundamental step to advance our knowledge on their function and regulatory mechanisms. However, RNA sequencing based lncRNA discovery is currently limited due to complicated operations and implementation of the tools involved. Therefore, we present a one-stop multi-tool integrated pipeline called LncPipe focused on characterizing lncRNAs from raw transcriptome sequencing data. The pipeline was developed based on a popular workflow framework Nextflow, composed of four core procedures including reads alignment, assembly, identification and quantification. It contains various unique features such as well-designed lncRNAs annotation strategy, optimized calculating efficiency, diversified classification and interactive analysis report. LncPipe allows users additional control in interuppting the pipeline, resetting parameters from command line, modifying main script directly and resume analysis from previous checkpoint.

Table of Contents

Schematic diagram


LncPipe is implemented with Nextflow pipeline management system. To run LncPipe. Nextflow should be pre-installed at POSIX compatible system (Linux, Solaris, OS X, etc), It requires BASH and Java 7 or higher to be installed. We do not recommend running the pipes in the Windows since most of bioinformatic tools are not supported.

Quick start

Here, we show step by step installation of Nextflow in a linux system as an example (adopted from NextFlow).

    1. Download the NextFlow executable package by pasting the following command into your terminal window:

      wget -qO- | bash

It will create the Nextflow main executable file in the current directory.

    1. Optionally, move the nextflow file to a directory accessible by your $PATH variable (only required to avoid typing the full path to this file each time you need to run it). Of course, you can download the lastest binary version of NextFlow by yourself from here and add the path to your system environment.All those pipelines were written in Nextflow commands. For more details, please see here.
    1. Download the LncPipe github repository by:
git clone
    1. Configure the design.file with experimental conditions and replicate info
    1. Configure your data and reference files in nextflow.config or docker.config or singularity.config
    1. Run LncPipe nextflow pipeline:

      nextflow -c nextflow.config run

    or docker command

     nextflow -c docker.config run

    or singularity command

     # create image 
     singularity build lncPipe.image docker://bioinformatist/lncpipe
     # run command 
     nextflow -c singularity.config run
  • __7.Run with test data __ .

    PlZ go to

Prepare input files

References, index and annotation files(Mandatory).

  • 😊Please keep the consistency of your genome sequence,index library and annotation files (Important!): genome version, chromosome format, gtf coordinated e.g. The dependent third-party softwares may stop for any discrepencies in file-formatting.

  • Genome reference (genome fasta file with suffix .fa etc. )

  • Genome Index for alignment (hisat2 or tophat or STAR)

  • GENCODE gene annotation file in GTF format

  • LNCipedia gene annotation file in GTF format.(set null if not available for your species)

  • Raw sequence file with *.fastq.gz / *.fq.gz suffixed


>Currently, LncPipe has been tested for detection of lncRNAs in 'humans' only.
However, LncPipe can be manually configured to run the anlysis for other species as well and requires additional files  "known_protein_coding.gtf" and  "known_lncRNA.gtf" for coding probability calculations. More information on usage for non-human species can be found here.  
  • Reference files for humans

    1. hisat index built from Genome:

    2. Genome reference:

    3. GENCODE gene annotation:

    4. LNCipedia gene annotation:

    5. Raw sequence file with *.fastq.gz / *.fq.gz suffixed

  • Reference files for mouse

    1. hisat index built from Genome

    2. Genome reference:

    3. GENCODE gene annotation:

    4. LNCipedia gene annotation: null

    5. Raw sequence file with *.fastq.gz / *.fq.gz suffixed

Run Docker

  1. Prepare input files as mentioned earlier.

  2. Modify the docker.config in mandatory section.

  3. Install docker and download the latest LncPipe build using: docker pull bioinformatist/lncpipe

  4. Run LncPipe using the following command:

     nextflow -c docker.config run

The docker image for LncPipe is available on the docker-hub ( Alternatively, nextflow can automatically pull image from Dockerfile recorded that what we have done with the image. For user from local China looking to pull the docker image can use this mirror site instead.


TO Install softwares locally on your machine, please see install instructions here

Interactive reports

The results of LncPipe are summarized and visualized via interactive plots by our novel R package LncPipeReporter. Users can also try LncPipeReporter as stand-alone for visualizing known and novel lncRNAs.


As a nextflow-based analysis pipeline, LncPipe allow users edit configure file nextflow.config to set the index files and default file path parameters instead of typing them into the command line.

To configure, please go to params line, and set the following information of various file locations and system environment settings

        params {
            User setting options (mandatory)
        // input file and genome reference
            fastq_ext = '*_{1,2}.fq.gz'
            fasta_ref = '/data/database/hg38/genome.fa'
            design = 'design.file'
            hisat2_index = '/data/database/hg38/hisatIndex/grch38_snp_tran/genome_snp_tran'
            //human gtf only
            gencode_annotation_gtf = "/data/database/hg38/Annotation/gencode.v24.annotation.gtf"
            lncipedia_gtf = "/data/database/hg38/Annotation/lncipedia_4_0_hg38.gtf" // set "null" if you are going to perform analysis on other species

        // additional options for non-human species, else leaving them unchanged
            species="human"// mouse , zebrafish, fly
            //for test
            cpatpath = '/home/zhaoqi/software/CPAT/CPAT-1.2.2/'

            User setting options (optional)
            // tools setting
            star_idex = ''//set if star used
            bowtie2_index = ''//set if tophat used
            aligner = "hisat" // or "star","tophat"
            sam_processor="sambamba"//or "samtools(deprecated)"
            qctools ="fastp"  // or "afterqc","fastp","fastqc"
            detools = "edger"//or "deseq2","noiseq" not supported yet
            quant = "kallisto"// or 'htseq'

            //other setting
            singleEnd = false
            unstrand = false
            skip_combine = false
            lncRep_Output = 'reporter.html'
            lncRep_theme = 'npg'
            lncRep_cdf_percent = 10
            lncRep_max_lnc_len = 10000
            lncRep_min_expressed_sample = 50

        manifest {
            homePage = 'https//'
            description = 'LncPipe:a Nextflow-based Long non-coding RNA analysis PIPELINE'
            mainScript = ''

        timeline {
            enabled: true
            file: "timeline.html"


Those parameters would cover the setting from nextflow.config file

  • Mandatory(plz configure those options in nextflow.config or docker.config file)
Name Example/Default value Description
--input_folder . input folder
--species human Your species, mouse, fly and zebra fish are also supported
--fastq_ext *_{1,2}.fastq.gz input raw paired reads
--out_folder . output folder
--design FALSE a txt file that stored experimental design information, plz see details from --design section below
  • References
Name Required Description
--star_index/--bowtie2_index/--hisat2_index - Path to STAR?bowtie2/hisat2(mutually exclusive) index(required if not set in config file)
--fasta - Path to Fasta reference(required if not set in config file)
--gencode_annotation_gtf - An annotation file from GENCODE database for annotating lncRNAs(required if not set in config file). e.g. gencode.v26.annotation.gtf
--lncipedia_gtf - An annotation file from LNCipedia database for annotating lncRNAs(required if not set in config file) e.g. lncipedia_4_0_hc_hg38.gtf
  • software path (should not setting when using docker )
Name Required Description
--cpatpath - Home folder of cpat installed location

since cpat may call model data from its home path, users should specified where the model file is located in. Especially users install cpat by themselves without our install code.

  • Optional
Name Default value Description
--singleEnd FALSE specify that the reads are single ended
--merged_gtf FALSE Skip mapping and assembly step by directly providing assembled merged gtf files
--unstrand FALSE specify that library is unstrand specific
--aligner star Aligner for reads mapping (optional), STAR is default and supported only at present,star/tophat/hisat2
--qctools fastp Tools for assess raw reads quality or filtered by fastp, fastqc, afterqc or none(skip qc step)
  • LncPipeReporter options
Name Default value Description
--lncRep_Output reporter.html Specify report file name.
--lncRep_theme npg Plot theme setting in interactive plot. Values from ggsci
--lncRep_min_expressed_sample 50 Minimum expressed gene allowed in each sample, 50 default. Samples not passed were filtered from analysis


Raw fastq files are required for de-novo analysis.This parameters should be set according to your paired or singled reads file names.

For example:


Then you can input pattern *_{1,2}.fq.gz to make the all paired-end file recognized by LncPipe .

For singled reads file, file pattern should be fed with --singleEnd parameter specified


This parameter is required when not configured in nextflow.config file. It specify the star/tophat/hisat2(mutually exclusive) index folder built before running LncPipe . If you don't know what it is?You can use --fasta to specify the reference sequence data. The index file would be built by LncPipe automatically.


Experimental design file matrix for differential expression analysis. Default: null Format:


While KO/WT represents the two experimental condition, and sample1, sample2, sample3 are replicates which should be comma-delimited in the same line .

For sample names, it should be the sample as the prefix of fastq files which was trimmed by --fastq_ext.

For example:

if fastq file names are Sample1_1.fq.gz, Sample1_2.fq.gz that comes from one sample and your --fastq_ext is set as *_{1,2}.fq.gz, the sample name should be Sample1.


Result folder under current path(default) or output_folder set by user. A typical structure of Result is follows:

        ├── QC
        │   ├── N1141_1.clean_fastqc.html
        │   ├── N1141_2.clean_fastqc.html
        │   ├── N1177_1.clean_fastqc.html
        │   └── N1177_2.clean_fastqc.html
        ├── Identified_lncRNA
        │   ├── all_lncRNA_for_classifier.gtf
        │   ├── final_all.fa
        │   ├── final_all.gtf
        │   ├── lncRNA.fa
        │   ├── protein_coding.fa
        │   └──
        ├── LncReporter
        │   ├── Differential_Expression_analysis.csv
        │   └── Report.html
        ├── Quantification
        │   ├── kallisto.count.txt
        │   └── kallisto.tpm.txt
        └── Star_alignment
            ├── STAR_N1141
            │   ├── N1141Aligned.sortedByCoord.out.bam
            │   ├──
            │   ├── N1141Log.out
            │   ├── N1141Log.progress.out
            │   └──
            └── STAR_N1177
                ├── N1177Aligned.sortedByCoord.out.bam
                ├── N1177Log.out
                ├── N1177Log.progress.out
  • QC stored the Quality control output generated by FastQC or AfterQC software.
  • Identified_lncRNA contains all assembled lncRNA and their sequences. all_lncRNA_for_classifier.gtf includes both novel and known lncRNA features in GTF format; lncRNA.fa is all lncRNA sequences in fasta format. and protein_coding.fa are protein coding information extracted from gencode annotation. final_all.gtf and final_all.fa are combined files for further analysis.
  • Alignment are hisat/tophat/STAR aligner standard output
  • Quantification are estimated abundance using kallisto. kallisto.count.txt stored reads count matrix and kallisto.tpm.txt are tpm(Transcripts Per Kilobase Million) matrix.
  • LncReporter stored the interactive report file and differential expression matrix generated by LncPipeReporter which wrapped EdgeR.


  • 😊Plz keep the consistency of your genome sequence, index library and annotation files: genome version, chromosome format, gtf coordinated e.g. The third-party software may stop for any of the above reasons.
  • 😕Setting your analysis parameters always in config file, differ project should corresponding to differ configurations for reproductive analysis. To rerun a project, you can just specify -c your.config in your command, which can also help you to record analysis parameters.
  • 😮Run analysis on docker container, no much to say.
  • 😬Always use the latest version to be away from the known bugs.


Thanks to the author of AfterQC, Shifu Chen, for his help on providing a gzip output support to meet the require of LncPipe. Thanks to the internal test by Hongwan Zhang and Yan Wang from SYSUCC Cancer bioinformatics platform.


  • 1. PLEK throws an error "/data/software/PLEK.1.2/ $'\r': can not find command", how to fix?

A: using the follow command as suggested in the installation section.

    perl -CD -pi -e'tr/\x{feff}//d && s/[\r\n]+/\n/' *.py 
  • 2. IOError: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: '/opt/CPAT-1.2.3/dat/Human_Hexamer.tsv'?

A: The cpat command required the Human_Hexamer.tsv to predict lncRNA coding potential, plz check your cpatpath parameters.

  • 3. When using htseq to quantify transicript, it throws "Error occured when reading beginning of SAM/BAM file. 'csamtools.AlignedRead' object has no attribute 'reference_start' "

A: It's a version conflict caused by htseq and hisat generated bamfile, a possible solution for this is to install the old version of htseq


For implementation:

We strongly recommend users open new issues if they have questions or find bugs.


GPL v3 license


Qi Zhao, Yu Sun, Dawei Wang, Hongwan Zhang, Kai Yu, Jian Zheng, Zhixiang Zuo. LncPipe: A Nextflow-based pipeline for identification and analysis of long non-coding RNAs from RNA-Seq data. Journal of Genetics and Genomics. 2018. (In press)