mAPC-GibbsOS: an integrated approach for robust identification of gene regulatory networks
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Background Identification of cooperative gene regulatory network is an important topic for biological study especially in cancer research. Traditional approaches suffer from large noise in gene expression data and false positive connections in motif binding data; they also fail to identify the modularized structure of gene regulatory network. Methods that are capable of revealing underlying modularized structure and robust to noise and false positives are needed to be developed. Results We proposed and developed an integrated approach to identify gene regulatory networks, which consists of a novel clustering method (namely motif-guided affinity propagation clustering (mAPC)) and a sampling based method (called Gibbs sampler based on outlier sum statistic (GibbsOS)). mAPC is used in the first step to obtain co-regulated gene modules by clustering genes with a similarity measurement taking into account both gene expression data and binding motif information. This clustering method can reduce the noise effect from microarray data to obtain modularized gene clusters. However, due to many false positives in motif binding data, some genes not regulated by certain transcription factors (TFs) will be falsely clustered with true target genes. To overcome this problem, GibbsOS is applied in the second step to refine each cluster for the identification of true target genes. In order to evaluate the performance of the proposed method, we generated simulation data under different signal-to-noise ratios and false positive ratios to test the method. The experimental results show an improved accuracy in terms of clustering and transcription factor identification. Moreover, an improved performance is demonstrated in target gene identification as compared with GibbsOS. Finally, we applied the proposed method to two breast cancer patient datasets to identify cooperative transcriptional regulatory networks associated with recurrence of breast cancer, as supported by their functional annotations. Conclusions We have developed a two-step approach for gene regulatory network identification, featuring an integrated method to identify modularized regulatory structures and refine their target genes subsequently. Simulation studies have shown the robustness of the method against noise in gene expression data and false positives in motif binding data. The proposed method has been applied to two breast cancer gene expression datasets to infer the hidden regulation mechanisms. The experimental results demonstrate the efficacy of the method in identifying key regulatory networks related to the progression and recurrence of breast cancer.