Metric learning on expression data for gene function prediction

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Motivation: Co-expression of two genes across different conditions is indicative of their involvement in the same biological process. However, when using RNA-Seq datasets with many experimental conditions from diverse sources, only a subset of the experimental conditions is expected to be relevant for finding genes related to a particular Gene Ontology (GO) term. Therefore, we hypothesize that when the purpose is to find similarly functioning genes, the co-expression of genes should not be determined on all samples but only on those samples informative for the GO term of interest. Results: To address this, we developed Metric Learning for Co-expression (MLC), a fast algorithm that assigns a GO-term-specific weight to each expression sample. The goal is to obtain a weighted co-expression measure that is more suitable than the unweighted Pearson correlation for applying Guilt-By-Association-based function predictions. More specifically, if two genes are annotated with a given GO term, MLC tries to maximize their weighted co-expression and, in addition, if one of them is not annotated with that term, the weighted co-expression is minimized. Our experiments on publicly available Arabidopsis thaliana RNA-Seq data demonstrate that MLC outperforms standard Pearson correlation in term-centric performance. Moreover, our method is particularly good at more specific terms, which are the most interesting. Finally, by observing the sample weights for a particular GO term, one can identify which experiments are important for learning that term and potentially identify novel conditions that are relevant, as demonstrated by experiments in both A. thaliana and Pseudomonas Aeruginosa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1182-1190
Number of pages9
JournalBioinformatics (Oxford, England)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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