Candidate gene prioritization by network analysis of differential expression using machine learning approaches

Daniela Nitsch, Joana P. Goncalves, Fabian Ojeda, Bart de Moor, Yves Moreau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


Discovering novel disease genes is still challenging for diseases for which no prior knowledge - such as known disease genes or disease-related pathways - is available. Performing genetic studies frequently results in large lists of candidate genes of which only few can be followed up for further investigation. We have recently developed a computational method for constitutional genetic disorders that identifies the most promising candidate genes by replacing prior knowledge by experimental data of differential gene expression between affected and healthy individuals.
To improve the performance of our prioritization strategy, we have extended our previous work by applying different machine learning approaches that identify promising candidate genes by determining whether a gene is surrounded by highly differentially expressed genes in a functional association or protein-protein interaction network.
We have proposed three strategies scoring disease candidate genes relying on network-based machine learning approaches, such as kernel ridge regression, heat kernel, and Arnoldi kernel approximation. For comparison purposes, a local measure based on the expression of the direct neighbors is also computed. We have benchmarked these strategies on 40 publicly available knockout experiments in mice, and performance was assessed against results obtained using a standard procedure in genetics that ranks candidate genes based solely on their differential expression levels (Simple Expression Ranking). Our results showed that our four strategies could outperform this standard procedure and that the best results were obtained using the Heat Kernel Diffusion Ranking leading to an average ranking position of 8 out of 100 genes, an AUC value of 92.3% and an error reduction of 52.8% relative to the standard procedure approach which ranked the knockout gene on average at position 17 with an AUC value of 83.7%.
In this study we could identify promising candidate genes using network based machine learning approaches even if no knowledge is available about the disease or phenotype.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Bioinformatics
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Knockout Gene
  • Krylov Subspace
  • Ranking Strategy
  • Average Node Degree
  • Differential Expression Level

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