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Seeing Beyond the Blot: A Critical Look at  Assumptions and Raw Data Interpretation in Western Blotting
  • Maxwell DeNies,
  • Allen Liu,
  • Santiago Schnell
Maxwell DeNies
University of Michigan Medical School

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Allen Liu
University of Michigan College of Engineering
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Santiago Schnell
University of Michigan Medical School
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Rapid advancements in technology refine our understanding of intricate biological processes, but a crucial emphasis remains on understanding the assumptions and sources of uncertainty underlying biological measurements. This is particularly critical in cell signaling research, where a quantitative understanding of the fundamental mechanisms governing these transient events is essential for drug development, given their importance in both homeostatic and pathogenic processes. Western blotting, a technique developed decades ago, remains an indispensable tool for investigating cell signaling, protein expression, and protein-protein interactions. While improvements in statistical analysis and methodology reporting have undoubtedly enhanced data quality, understanding the underlying assumptions and limitations of visual inspection in western blotting can provide valuable additional information for evaluating experimental conclusions. Using the example of agonist-induced receptor post-translational modification, we highlight the theoretical and experimental assumptions associated with western blotting and demonstrate how raw blot data can offer clues to experimental variability that may not be fully captured by statistical analyses and reported methodologies. This article is not intended as a comprehensive technical review of western blotting. Instead, we leverage an illustrative example to demonstrate how assumptions about experimental design and data normalization can be revealed within raw data and subsequently influence data interpretation.