Bayesian Integration and Modeling for Next-generation Sequencing Data Analysis

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Virginia Tech

Computational biology currently faces challenges in a big data world with thousands of data samples across multiple disease types including cancer. The challenging problem is how to extract biologically meaningful information from large-scale genomic data. Next-generation Sequencing (NGS) can now produce high quality data at DNA and RNA levels. However, in cells there exist a lot of non-specific (background) signals that affect the detection accuracy of true (foreground) signals. In this dissertation work, under Bayesian framework, we aim to develop and apply approaches to learn the distribution of genomic signals in each type of NGS data for reliable identification of specific foreground signals.

We propose a novel Bayesian approach (ChIP-BIT) to reliably detect transcription factor (TF) binding sites (TFBSs) within promoter or enhancer regions by jointly analyzing the sample and input ChIP-seq data for one specific TF. Specifically, a Gaussian mixture model is used to capture both binding and background signals in the sample data; and background signals are modeled by a local Gaussian distribution that is accurately estimated from the input data. An Expectation-Maximization algorithm is used to learn the model parameters according to the distributions on binding signal intensity and binding locations. Extensive simulation studies and experimental validation both demonstrate that ChIP-BIT has a significantly improved performance on TFBS detection over conventional methods, particularly on weak binding signal detection.

To infer cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) of multiple TFs, we propose to develop a Bayesian integration approach, namely BICORN, to integrate ChIP-seq and RNA-seq data of the same tissue. Each TFBS identified from ChIP-seq data can be either a functional binding event mediating target gene transcription or a non-functional binding. The functional bindings of a set of TFs usually work together as a CRM to regulate the transcription processes of a group of genes. We develop a Gibbs sampling approach to learn the distribution of CRMs (a joint distribution of multiple TFs) based on their functional bindings and target gene expression. The robustness of BICORN has been validated on simulated regulatory network and gene expression data with respect to different noise settings. BICORN is further applied to breast cancer MCF-7 ChIP-seq and RNA-seq data to identify CRMs functional in promoter or enhancer regions.

In tumor cells, the normal regulatory mechanism may be interrupted by genome mutations, especially those somatic mutations that uniquely occur in tumor cells. Focused on a specific type of genome mutation, structural variation (SV), we develop a novel pattern-based probabilistic approach, namely PSSV, to identify somatic SVs from whole genome sequencing (WGS) data. PSSV features a mixture model with hidden states representing different mutation patterns; PSSV can thus differentiate heterozygous and homozygous SVs in each sample, enabling the identification of those somatic SVs with a heterozygous status in the normal sample and a homozygous status in the tumor sample. Simulation studies demonstrate that PSSV outperforms existing tools. PSSV has been successfully applied to breast cancer patient WGS data for identifying somatic SVs of key factors associated with breast cancer development.

In this dissertation research, we demonstrate the advantage of the proposed distributional learning-based approaches over conventional methods for NGS data analysis. Distributional learning is a very powerful approach to gain biological insights from high quality NGS data. Successful applications of the proposed Bayesian methods to breast cancer NGS data shed light on underlying molecular mechanisms of breast cancer, enabling biologists or clinicians to identify major cancer drivers and develop new therapeutics for cancer treatment.

NGS Data Analysis, Transcriptional Regulatory Network, Genomic Mutation, Bayesian Modeling, Expectation-Maximization, Gibbs Sampling