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1.  Tree-Based Position Weight Matrix Approach to Model Transcription Factor Binding Site Profiles 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24210.
Most of the position weight matrix (PWM) based bioinformatics methods developed to predict transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) assume each nucleotide in the sequence motif contributes independently to the interaction between protein and DNA sequence, usually producing high false positive predictions. The increasing availability of TF enrichment profiles from recent ChIP-Seq methodology facilitates the investigation of dependent structure and accurate prediction of TFBSs. We develop a novel Tree-based PWM (TPWM) approach to accurately model the interaction between TF and its binding site. The whole tree-structured PWM could be considered as a mixture of different conditional-PWMs. We propose a discriminative approach, called TPD (TPWM based Discriminative Approach), to construct the TPWM from the ChIP-Seq data with a pre-existing PWM. To achieve the maximum discriminative power between the positive and negative datasets, the cutoff value is determined based on the Matthew Correlation Coefficient (MCC). The resulting TPWMs are evaluated with respect to accuracy on extensive synthetic datasets. We then apply our TPWM discriminative approach on several real ChIP-Seq datasets to refine the current TFBS models stored in the TRANSFAC database. Experiments on both the simulated and real ChIP-Seq data show that the proposed method starting from existing PWM has consistently better performance than existing tools in detecting the TFBSs. The improved accuracy is the result of modelling the complete dependent structure of the motifs and better prediction of true positive rate. The findings could lead to better understanding of the mechanisms of TF-DNA interactions.
PMCID: PMC3166302  PMID: 21912677
2.  Feature-based classifiers for somatic mutation detection in tumour–normal paired sequencing data 
Bioinformatics  2011;28(2):167-175.
Motivation: The study of cancer genomes now routinely involves using next-generation sequencing technology (NGS) to profile tumours for single nucleotide variant (SNV) somatic mutations. However, surprisingly few published bioinformatics methods exist for the specific purpose of identifying somatic mutations from NGS data and existing tools are often inaccurate, yielding intolerably high false prediction rates. As such, the computational problem of accurately inferring somatic mutations from paired tumour/normal NGS data remains an unsolved challenge.
Results: We present the comparison of four standard supervised machine learning algorithms for the purpose of somatic SNV prediction in tumour/normal NGS experiments. To evaluate these approaches (random forest, Bayesian additive regression tree, support vector machine and logistic regression), we constructed 106 features representing 3369 candidate somatic SNVs from 48 breast cancer genomes, originally predicted with naive methods and subsequently revalidated to establish ground truth labels. We trained the classifiers on this data (consisting of 1015 true somatic mutations and 2354 non-somatic mutation positions) and conducted a rigorous evaluation of these methods using a cross-validation framework and hold-out test NGS data from both exome capture and whole genome shotgun platforms. All learning algorithms employing predictive discriminative approaches with feature selection improved the predictive accuracy over standard approaches by statistically significant margins. In addition, using unsupervised clustering of the ground truth ‘false positive’ predictions, we noted several distinct classes and present evidence suggesting non-overlapping sources of technical artefacts illuminating important directions for future study.
Availability: Software called MutationSeq and datasets are available from
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3259434  PMID: 22084253
3.  De novo prediction of DNA-binding specificities for Cys2His2 zinc finger proteins 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(1):97-108.
Proteins with sequence-specific DNA binding function are important for a wide range of biological activities. De novo prediction of their DNA-binding specificities from sequence alone would be a great aid in inferring cellular networks. Here we introduce a method for predicting DNA-binding specificities for Cys2His2 zinc fingers (C2H2-ZFs), the largest family of DNA-binding proteins in metazoans. We develop a general approach, based on empirical calculations of pairwise amino acid–nucleotide interaction energies, for predicting position weight matrices (PWMs) representing DNA-binding specificities for C2H2-ZF proteins. We predict DNA-binding specificities on a per-finger basis and merge predictions for C2H2-ZF domains that are arrayed within sequences. We test our approach on a diverse set of natural C2H2-ZF proteins with known binding specificities and demonstrate that for >85% of the proteins, their predicted PWMs are accurate in 50% of their nucleotide positions. For proteins with several zinc finger isoforms, we show via case studies that this level of accuracy enables us to match isoforms with their known DNA-binding specificities. A web server for predicting a PWM given a protein containing C2H2-ZF domains is available online at and can be used to aid in protein engineering applications and in genome-wide searches for transcription factor targets.
PMCID: PMC3874201  PMID: 24097433
4.  DBD2BS: connecting a DNA-binding protein with its binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W173-W179.
By binding to short and highly conserved DNA sequences in genomes, DNA-binding proteins initiate, enhance or repress biological processes. Accurately identifying such binding sites, often represented by position weight matrices (PWMs), is an important step in understanding the control mechanisms of cells. When given coordinates of a DNA-binding domain (DBD) bound with DNA, a potential function can be used to estimate the change of binding affinity after base substitutions, where the changes can be summarized as a PWM. This technique provides an effective alternative when the chromatin immunoprecipitation data are unavailable for PWM inference. To facilitate the procedure of predicting PWMs based on protein–DNA complexes or even structures of the unbound state, the web server, DBD2BS, is presented in this study. The DBD2BS uses an atom-level knowledge-based potential function to predict PWMs characterizing the sequences to which the query DBD structure can bind. For unbound queries, a list of 1066 DBD–DNA complexes (including 1813 protein chains) is compiled for use as templates for synthesizing bound structures. The DBD2BS provides users with an easy-to-use interface for visualizing the PWMs predicted based on different templates and the spatial relationships of the query protein, the DBDs and the DNAs. The DBD2BS is the first attempt to predict PWMs of DBDs from unbound structures rather than from bound ones. This approach increases the number of existing protein structures that can be exploited when analyzing protein–DNA interactions. In a recent study, the authors showed that the kernel adopted by the DBD2BS can generate PWMs consistent with those obtained from the experimental data. The use of DBD2BS to predict PWMs can be incorporated with sequence-based methods to discover binding sites in genome-wide studies.
Available at:,, and
PMCID: PMC3394304  PMID: 22693214
5.  Improved predictions of transcription factor binding sites using physicochemical features of DNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(22):e175.
Typical approaches for predicting transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) involve use of a position-specific weight matrix (PWM) to statistically characterize the sequences of the known sites. Recently, an alternative physicochemical approach, called SiteSleuth, was proposed. In this approach, a linear support vector machine (SVM) classifier is trained to distinguish TFBSs from background sequences based on local chemical and structural features of DNA. SiteSleuth appears to generally perform better than PWM-based methods. Here, we improve the SiteSleuth approach by considering both new physicochemical features and algorithmic modifications. New features are derived from Gibbs energies of amino acid–DNA interactions and hydroxyl radical cleavage profiles of DNA. Algorithmic modifications consist of inclusion of a feature selection step, use of a nonlinear kernel in the SVM classifier, and use of a consensus-based post-processing step for predictions. We also considered SVM classification based on letter features alone to distinguish performance gains from use of SVM-based models versus use of physicochemical features. The accuracy of each of the variant methods considered was assessed by cross validation using data available in the RegulonDB database for 54 Escherichia coli TFs, as well as by experimental validation using published ChIP-chip data available for Fis and Lrp.
PMCID: PMC3526315  PMID: 22923524
6.  Increasing Coverage of Transcription Factor Position Weight Matrices through Domain-level Homology 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42779.
Transcription factor-DNA interactions, central to cellular regulation and control, are commonly described by position weight matrices (PWMs). These matrices are frequently used to predict transcription factor binding sites in regulatory regions of DNA to complement and guide further experimental investigation. The DNA sequence preferences of transcription factors, encoded in PWMs, are dictated primarily by select residues within the DNA binding domain(s) that interact directly with DNA. Therefore, the DNA binding properties of homologous transcription factors with identical DNA binding domains may be characterized by PWMs derived from different species. Accordingly, we have implemented a fully automated domain-level homology searching method for identical DNA binding sequences.
By applying the domain-level homology search to transcription factors with existing PWMs in the JASPAR and TRANSFAC databases, we were able to significantly increase coverage in terms of the total number of PWMs associated with a given species, assign PWMs to transcription factors that did not previously have any associations, and increase the number of represented species with PWMs over an order of magnitude. Additionally, using protein binding microarray (PBM) data, we have validated the domain-level method by demonstrating that transcription factor pairs with matching DNA binding domains exhibit comparable DNA binding specificity predictions to transcription factor pairs with completely identical sequences.
The increased coverage achieved herein demonstrates the potential for more thorough species-associated investigation of protein-DNA interactions using existing resources. The PWM scanning results highlight the challenging nature of transcription factors that contain multiple DNA binding domains, as well as the impact of motif discovery on the ability to predict DNA binding properties. The method is additionally suitable for identifying domain-level homology mappings to enable utilization of additional information sources in the study of transcription factors. The domain-level homology search method, resulting PWM mappings, web-based user interface, and web API are publicly available at
PMCID: PMC3428306  PMID: 22952610
7.  VOMBAT: prediction of transcription factor binding sites using variable order Bayesian trees 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(Web Server issue):W529-W533.
Variable order Markov models and variable order Bayesian trees have been proposed for the recognition of transcription factor binding sites, and it could be demonstrated that they outperform traditional models, such as position weight matrices, Markov models and Bayesian trees. We develop a web server for the recognition of DNA binding sites based on variable order Markov models and variable order Bayesian trees offering the following functionality: (i) given datasets with annotated binding sites and genomic background sequences, variable order Markov models and variable order Bayesian trees can be trained; (ii) given a set of trained models, putative DNA binding sites can be predicted in a given set of genomic sequences and (iii) given a dataset with annotated binding sites and a dataset with genomic background sequences, cross-validation experiments for different model combinations with different parameter settings can be performed. Several of the offered services are computationally demanding, such as genome-wide predictions of DNA binding sites in mammalian genomes or sets of 104-fold cross-validation experiments for different model combinations based on problem-specific data sets. In order to execute these jobs, and in order to serve multiple users at the same time, the web server is attached to a Linux cluster with 150 processors. VOMBAT is available at .
PMCID: PMC1538886  PMID: 16845064
8.  Computational technique for improvement of the position-weight matrices for the DNA/protein binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(7):2290-2301.
Position-weight matrices (PWMs) are broadly used to locate transcription factor binding sites in DNA sequences. The majority of existing PWMs provide a low level of both sensitivity and specificity. We present a new computational algorithm, a modification of the Staden–Bucher approach, that improves the PWM. We applied the proposed technique on the PWM of the GC-box, binding site for Sp1. The comparison of old and new PWMs shows that the latter increase both sensitivity and specificity. The statistical parameters of GC-box distribution in promoter regions and in the human genome, as well as in each chromosome, are presented. The majority of commonly used PWMs are the 4-row mononucleotide matrices, although 16-row dinucleotide matrices are known to be more informative. The algorithm efficiently determines the 16-row matrices and preliminary results show that such matrices provide better results than 4-row matrices.
PMCID: PMC1084321  PMID: 15849315
9.  Assessment of clusters of transcription factor binding sites in relationship to human promoter, CpG islands and gene expression 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:16.
Gene expression is regulated mainly by transcription factors (TFs) that interact with regulatory cis-elements on DNA sequences. To identify functional regulatory elements, computer searching can predict TF binding sites (TFBS) using position weight matrices (PWMs) that represent positional base frequencies of collected experimentally determined TFBS. A disadvantage of this approach is the large output of results for genomic DNA. One strategy to identify genuine TFBS is to utilize local concentrations of predicted TFBS. It is unclear whether there is a general tendency for TFBS to cluster at promoter regions, although this is the case for certain TFBS. Also unclear is the identification of TFs that have TFBS concentrated in promoters and to what level this occurs. This study hopes to answer some of these questions.
We developed the cluster score measure to evaluate the correlation between predicted TFBS clusters and promoter sequences for each PWM. Non-promoter sequences were used as a control. Using the cluster score, we identified a PWM group called PWM-PCP, in which TFBS clusters positively correlate with promoters, and another PWM group called PWM-NCP, in which TFBS clusters negatively correlate with promoters. The PWM-PCP group comprises 47% of the 199 vertebrate PWMs, while the PWM-NCP group occupied 11 percent. After reducing the effect of CpG islands (CGI) against the clusters using partial correlation coefficients among three properties (promoter, CGI and predicted TFBS cluster), we identified two PWM groups including those strongly correlated with CGI and those not correlated with CGI.
Not all PWMs predict TFBS correlated with human promoter sequences. Two main PWM groups were identified: (1) those that show TFBS clustered in promoters associated with CGI, and (2) those that show TFBS clustered in promoters independent of CGI. Assessment of PWM matches will allow more positive interpretation of TFBS in regulatory regions.
PMCID: PMC375527  PMID: 15053842
promoter; tissue-specific gene expression; position weight matrix; regulatory motif
10.  BayesPI - a new model to study protein-DNA interactions: a case study of condition-specific protein binding parameters for Yeast transcription factors 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:345.
We have incorporated Bayesian model regularization with biophysical modeling of protein-DNA interactions, and of genome-wide nucleosome positioning to study protein-DNA interactions, using a high-throughput dataset. The newly developed method (BayesPI) includes the estimation of a transcription factor (TF) binding energy matrices, the computation of binding affinity of a TF target site and the corresponding chemical potential.
The method was successfully tested on synthetic ChIP-chip datasets, real yeast ChIP-chip experiments. Subsequently, it was used to estimate condition-specific and species-specific protein-DNA interaction for several yeast TFs.
The results revealed that the modification of the protein binding parameters and the variation of the individual nucleotide affinity in either recognition or flanking sequences occurred under different stresses and in different species. The findings suggest that such modifications may be adaptive and play roles in the formation of the environment-specific binding patterns of yeast TFs and in the divergence of TF binding sites across the related yeast species.
PMCID: PMC2771022  PMID: 19857274
11.  Uncovering transcriptional interactions via an adaptive fuzzy logic approach 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:400.
To date, only a limited number of transcriptional regulatory interactions have been uncovered. In a pilot study integrating sequence data with microarray data, a position weight matrix (PWM) performed poorly in inferring transcriptional interactions (TIs), which represent physical interactions between transcription factors (TF) and upstream sequences of target genes. Inferring a TI means that the promoter sequence of a target is inferred to match the consensus sequence motifs of a potential TF, and their interaction type such as AT or RT is also predicted. Thus, a robust PWM (rPWM) was developed to search for consensus sequence motifs. In addition to rPWM, one feature extracted from ChIP-chip data was incorporated to identify potential TIs under specific conditions. An interaction type classifier was assembled to predict activation/repression of potential TIs using microarray data. This approach, combining an adaptive (learning) fuzzy inference system and an interaction type classifier to predict transcriptional regulatory networks, was named AdaFuzzy.
AdaFuzzy was applied to predict TIs using real genomics data from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Following one of the latest advances in predicting TIs, constrained probabilistic sparse matrix factorization (cPSMF), and using 19 transcription factors (TFs), we compared AdaFuzzy to four well-known approaches using over-representation analysis and gene set enrichment analysis. AdaFuzzy outperformed these four algorithms. Furthermore, AdaFuzzy was shown to perform comparably to 'ChIP-experimental method' in inferring TIs identified by two sets of large scale ChIP-chip data, respectively. AdaFuzzy was also able to classify all predicted TIs into one or more of the four promoter architectures. The results coincided with known promoter architectures in yeast and provided insights into transcriptional regulatory mechanisms.
AdaFuzzy successfully integrates multiple types of data (sequence, ChIP, and microarray) to predict transcriptional regulatory networks. The validated success in the prediction results implies that AdaFuzzy can be applied to uncover TIs in yeast.
PMCID: PMC2797023  PMID: 19961622
12.  Tissue-specific prediction of directly regulated genes 
Bioinformatics  2011;27(17):2354-2360.
Direct binding by a transcription factor (TF) to the proximal promoter of a gene is a strong evidence that the TF regulates the gene. Assaying the genome-wide binding of every TF in every cell type and condition is currently impractical. Histone modifications correlate with tissue/cell/condition-specific (‘tissue specific’) TF binding, so histone ChIP-seq data can be combined with traditional position weight matrix (PWM) methods to make tissue-specific predictions of TF–promoter interactions.
Results: We use supervised learning to train a naïve Bayes predictor of TF–promoter binding. The predictor's features are the histone modification levels and a PWM-based score for the promoter. Training and testing uses sets of promoters labeled using TF ChIP-seq data, and we use cross-validation on 23 such datasets to measure the accuracy. A PWM+histone naïve Bayes predictor using a single histone modification (H3K4me3) is substantially more accurate than a PWM score or a conservation-based score (phylogenetic motif model). The naïve Bayes predictor is more accurate (on average) at all sensitivity levels, and makes only half as many false positive predictions at sensitivity levels from 10% to 80%. On average, it correctly predicts 80% of bound promoters at a false positive rate of 20%. Accuracy does not diminish when we test the predictor in a different cell type (and species) from training. Accuracy is barely diminished even when we train the predictor without using TF ChIP-seq data.
Availability: Our tissue-specific predictor of promoters bound by a TF is called Dr Gene and is available at
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3157924  PMID: 21724591
13.  A Structural-Based Strategy for Recognition of Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52460.
Scanning through genomes for potential transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is becoming increasingly important in this post-genomic era. The position weight matrix (PWM) is the standard representation of TFBSs utilized when scanning through sequences for potential binding sites. However, many transcription factor (TF) motifs are short and highly degenerate, and methods utilizing PWMs to scan for sites are plagued by false positives. Furthermore, many important TFs do not have well-characterized PWMs, making identification of potential binding sites even more difficult. One approach to the identification of sites for these TFs has been to use the 3D structure of the TF to predict the DNA structure around the TF and then to generate a PWM from the predicted 3D complex structure. However, this approach is dependent on the similarity of the predicted structure to the native structure. We introduce here a novel approach to identify TFBSs utilizing structure information that can be applied to TFs without characterized PWMs, as long as a 3D complex structure (TF/DNA) exists. This approach utilizes an energy function that is uniquely trained on each structure. Our approach leads to increased prediction accuracy and robustness compared with those using a more general energy function. The software is freely available upon request.
PMCID: PMC3540023  PMID: 23320072
14.  Predicting Target DNA Sequences of DNA-Binding Proteins Based on Unbound Structures 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e30446.
DNA-binding proteins such as transcription factors use DNA-binding domains (DBDs) to bind to specific sequences in the genome to initiate many important biological functions. Accurate prediction of such target sequences, often represented by position weight matrices (PWMs), is an important step to understand many biological processes. Recent studies have shown that knowledge-based potential functions can be applied on protein-DNA co-crystallized structures to generate PWMs that are considerably consistent with experimental data. However, this success has not been extended to DNA-binding proteins lacking co-crystallized structures. This study aims at investigating the possibility of predicting the DNA sequences bound by DNA-binding proteins from the proteins' unbound structures (structures of the unbound state). Given an unbound query protein and a template complex, the proposed method first employs structure alignment to generate synthetic protein-DNA complexes for the query protein. Once a complex is available, an atomic-level knowledge-based potential function is employed to predict PWMs characterizing the sequences to which the query protein can bind. The evaluation of the proposed method is based on seven DNA-binding proteins, which have structures of both DNA-bound and unbound forms for prediction as well as annotated PWMs for validation. Since this work is the first attempt to predict target sequences of DNA-binding proteins from their unbound structures, three types of structural variations that presumably influence the prediction accuracy were examined and discussed. Based on the analyses conducted in this study, the conformational change of proteins upon binding DNA was shown to be the key factor. This study sheds light on the challenge of predicting the target DNA sequences of a protein lacking co-crystallized structures, which encourages more efforts on the structure alignment-based approaches in addition to docking- and homology modeling-based approaches for generating synthetic complexes.
PMCID: PMC3270014  PMID: 22312425
15.  Machine learning methods for metabolic pathway prediction 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:15.
A key challenge in systems biology is the reconstruction of an organism's metabolic network from its genome sequence. One strategy for addressing this problem is to predict which metabolic pathways, from a reference database of known pathways, are present in the organism, based on the annotated genome of the organism.
To quantitatively validate methods for pathway prediction, we developed a large "gold standard" dataset of 5,610 pathway instances known to be present or absent in curated metabolic pathway databases for six organisms. We defined a collection of 123 pathway features, whose information content we evaluated with respect to the gold standard. Feature data were used as input to an extensive collection of machine learning (ML) methods, including naïve Bayes, decision trees, and logistic regression, together with feature selection and ensemble methods. We compared the ML methods to the previous PathoLogic algorithm for pathway prediction using the gold standard dataset. We found that ML-based prediction methods can match the performance of the PathoLogic algorithm. PathoLogic achieved an accuracy of 91% and an F-measure of 0.786. The ML-based prediction methods achieved accuracy as high as 91.2% and F-measure as high as 0.787. The ML-based methods output a probability for each predicted pathway, whereas PathoLogic does not, which provides more information to the user and facilitates filtering of predicted pathways.
ML methods for pathway prediction perform as well as existing methods, and have qualitative advantages in terms of extensibility, tunability, and explainability. More advanced prediction methods and/or more sophisticated input features may improve the performance of ML methods. However, pathway prediction performance appears to be limited largely by the ability to correctly match enzymes to the reactions they catalyze based on genome annotations.
PMCID: PMC3146072  PMID: 20064214
16.  MYBS: a comprehensive web server for mining transcription factor binding sites in yeast 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(Web Server issue):W221-W226.
Correct interactions between transcription factors (TFs) and their binding sites (TFBSs) are of central importance to gene regulation. Recently developed chromatin-immunoprecipitation DNA chip (ChIP-chip) techniques and the phylogenetic footprinting method provide ways to identify TFBSs with high precision. In this study, we constructed a user-friendly interactive platform for dynamic binding site mapping using ChIP-chip data and phylogenetic footprinting as two filters. MYBS (Mining Yeast Binding Sites) is a comprehensive web server that integrates an array of both experimentally verified and predicted position weight matrixes (PWMs) from eleven databases, including 481 binding motif consensus sequences and 71 PWMs that correspond to 183 TFs. MYBS users can search within this platform for motif occurrences (possible binding sites) in the promoters of genes of interest via simple motif or gene queries in conjunction with the above two filters. In addition, MYBS enables users to visualize in parallel the potential regulators for a given set of genes, a feature useful for finding potential regulatory associations between TFs. MYBS also allows users to identify target gene sets of each TF pair, which could be used as a starting point for further explorations of TF combinatorial regulation. MYBS is available at
PMCID: PMC1933147  PMID: 17537814
17.  Models incorporating chromatin modification data identify functionally important p53 binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(11):5582-5593.
Genome-wide prediction of transcription factor binding sites is notoriously difficult. We have developed and applied a logistic regression approach for prediction of binding sites for the p53 transcription factor that incorporates sequence information and chromatin modification data. We tested this by comparison of predicted sites with known binding sites defined by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), by the location of predictions relative to genes, by the function of nearby genes and by analysis of gene expression data after p53 activation. We compared the predictions made by our novel model with predictions based only on matches to a sequence position weight matrix (PWM). In whole genome assays, the fraction of known sites identified by the two models was similar, suggesting that there was little to be gained from including chromatin modification data. In contrast, there were highly significant and biologically relevant differences between the two models in the location of the predicted binding sites relative to genes, in the function of nearby genes and in the responsiveness of nearby genes to p53 activation. We propose that these contradictory results can be explained by PWM and ChIP data reflecting primarily biophysical properties of protein–DNA interactions, whereas chromatin modification data capture biologically important functional information.
PMCID: PMC3675478  PMID: 23599002
18.  Optimized Position Weight Matrices in Prediction of Novel Putative Binding Sites for Transcription Factors in the Drosophila melanogaster Genome 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e68712.
Position weight matrices (PWMs) have become a tool of choice for the identification of transcription factor binding sites in DNA sequences. DNA-binding proteins often show degeneracy in their binding requirement and thus the overall binding specificity of many proteins is unknown and remains an active area of research. Although existing PWMs are more reliable predictors than consensus string matching, they generally result in a high number of false positive hits. Our previous study introduced a promising approach to PWM refinement in which known motifs are used to computationally mine putative binding sites directly from aligned promoter regions using composition of similar sites. In the present study, we extended this technique originally tested on single examples of transcription factors (TFs) and showed its capability to optimize PWM performance to predict new binding sites in the fruit fly genome. We propose refined PWMs in mono- and dinucleotide versions similarly computed for a large variety of transcription factors of Drosophila melanogaster. Along with the addition of many auxiliary sites the optimization includes variation of the PWM motif length, the binding sites location on the promoters and the PWM score threshold. To assess the predictive performance of the refined PWMs we compared them to conventional TRANSFAC and JASPAR sources. The results have been verified using performed tests and literature review. Overall, the refined PWMs containing putative sites derived from real promoter content processed using optimized parameters had better general accuracy than conventional PWMs.
PMCID: PMC3735551  PMID: 23936309
19.  GADEM: A Genetic Algorithm Guided Formation of Spaced Dyads Coupled with an EM Algorithm for Motif Discovery 
Genome-wide analyses of protein binding sites generate large amounts of data; a ChIP dataset might contain 10,000 sites. Unbiased motif discovery in such datasets is not generally feasible using current methods that employ probabilistic models. We propose an efficient method, GADEM, which combines spaced dyads and an expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm. Candidate words (four to six nucleotides) for constructing spaced dyads are prioritized by their degree of overrepresentation in the input sequence data. Spaced dyads are converted into starting position weight matrices (PWMs). GADEM then employs a genetic algorithm (GA), with an embedded EM algorithm to improve starting PWMs, to guide the evolution of a population of spaced dyads toward one whose entropy scores are more statistically significant. Spaced dyads whose entropy scores reach a pre-specified significance threshold are declared motifs. GADEM performed comparably with MEME on 500 sets of simulated “ChIP” sequences with embedded known P53 binding sites. The major advantage of GADEM is its computational efficiency on large ChIP datasets compared to competitors. We applied GADEM to six genome-wide ChIP datasets. Approximately, 15 to 30 motifs of various lengths were identified in each dataset. Remarkably, without any prior motif information, the expected known motif (e.g., P53 in P53 data) was identified every time. GADEM discovered motifs of various lengths (6–40 bp) and characteristics in these datasets containing from 0.5 to >13 million nucleotides with run times of 5 to 96 h. GADEM can be viewed as an extension of the well-known MEME algorithm and is an efficient tool for de novo motif discovery in large-scale genome-wide data. The GADEM software is available at
PMCID: PMC2756050  PMID: 19193149
ChIP; de novo motif discovery; expectation-maximization; genetic algorithm; k-mer; spaced dyad
20.  gadem: A Genetic Algorithm Guided Formation of Spaced Dyads Coupled with an EM Algorithm for Motif Discovery 
Journal of Computational Biology  2009;16(2):317-329.
Genome-wide analyses of protein binding sites generate large amounts of data; a ChIP dataset might contain 10,000 sites. Unbiased motif discovery in such datasets is not generally feasible using current methods that employ probabilistic models. We propose an efficient method, gadem, which combines spaced dyads and an expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm. Candidate words (four to six nucleotides) for constructing spaced dyads are prioritized by their degree of overrepresentation in the input sequence data. Spaced dyads are converted into starting position weight matrices (PWMs). gadem then employs a genetic algorithm (GA), with an embedded EM algorithm to improve starting PWMs, to guide the evolution of a population of spaced dyads toward one whose entropy scores are more statistically significant. Spaced dyads whose entropy scores reach a pre-specified significance threshold are declared motifs. gadem performed comparably with meme on 500 sets of simulated “ChIP” sequences with embedded known P53 binding sites. The major advantage of gadem is its computational efficiency on large ChIP datasets compared to competitors. We applied gadem to six genome-wide ChIP datasets. Approximately, 15 to 30 motifs of various lengths were identified in each dataset. Remarkably, without any prior motif information, the expected known motif (e.g., P53 in P53 data) was identified every time. gadem discovered motifs of various lengths (6–40 bp) and characteristics in these datasets containing from 0.5 to >13 million nucleotides with run times of 5 to 96 h. gadem can be viewed as an extension of the well-known meme algorithm and is an efficient tool for de novo motif discovery in large-scale genome-wide data. The gadem software is available at
PMCID: PMC2756050  PMID: 19193149
ChIP; de novo motif discovery; expectation-maximization; genetic algorithm; k-mer; spaced dyad
21.  Transcription Factor Binding Sites Prediction Based on Modified Nucleosomes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89226.
In computational methods, position weight matrices (PWMs) are commonly applied for transcription factor binding site (TFBS) prediction. Although these matrices are more accurate than simple consensus sequences to predict actual binding sites, they usually produce a large number of false positive (FP) predictions and so are impoverished sources of information. Several studies have employed additional sources of information such as sequence conservation or the vicinity to transcription start sites to distinguish true binding regions from random ones. Recently, the spatial distribution of modified nucleosomes has been shown to be associated with different promoter architectures. These aligned patterns can facilitate DNA accessibility for transcription factors. We hypothesize that using data from these aligned and periodic patterns can improve the performance of binding region prediction. In this study, we propose two effective features, “modified nucleosomes neighboring” and “modified nucleosomes occupancy”, to decrease FP in binding site discovery. Based on these features, we designed a logistic regression classifier which estimates the probability of a region as a TFBS. Our model learned each feature based on Sp1 binding sites on Chromosome 1 and was tested on the other chromosomes in human CD4+T cells. In this work, we investigated 21 histone modifications and found that only 8 out of 21 marks are strongly correlated with transcription factor binding regions. To prove that these features are not specific to Sp1, we combined the logistic regression classifier with the PWM, and created a new model to search TFBSs on the genome. We tested the model using transcription factors MAZ, PU.1 and ELF1 and compared the results to those using only the PWM. The results show that our model can predict Transcription factor binding regions more successfully. The relative simplicity of the model and capability of integrating other features make it a superior method for TFBS prediction.
PMCID: PMC3931712  PMID: 24586611
22.  Flanking sequence context-dependent transcription factor binding in early Drosophila development 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14:298.
Gene expression in the Drosophila embryo is controlled by functional interactions between a large network of protein transcription factors (TFs) and specific sequences in DNA cis-regulatory modules (CRMs). The binding site sequences for any TF can be experimentally determined and represented in a position weight matrix (PWM). PWMs can then be used to predict the location of TF binding sites in other regions of the genome, although there are limitations to this approach as currently implemented.
In this proof-of-principle study, we analyze 127 CRMs and focus on four TFs that control transcription of target genes along the anterio-posterior axis of the embryo early in development. For all four of these TFs, there is some degree of conserved flanking sequence that extends beyond the predicted binding regions. A potential role for these conserved flanking sequences may be to enhance the specificity of TF binding, as the abundance of these sequences is greatly diminished when we examine only predicted high-affinity binding sites.
Expanding PWMs to include sequence context-dependence will increase the information content in PWMs and facilitate a more efficient functional identification and dissection of CRMs.
PMCID: PMC3851692  PMID: 24093548
Transcription factor; Binding site; Position weight matrix; Enhancer; Cis-regulatory module; Drosophila
23.  Using Sequence-Specific Chemical and Structural Properties of DNA to Predict Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(11):e1001007.
An important step in understanding gene regulation is to identify the DNA binding sites recognized by each transcription factor (TF). Conventional approaches to prediction of TF binding sites involve the definition of consensus sequences or position-specific weight matrices and rely on statistical analysis of DNA sequences of known binding sites. Here, we present a method called SiteSleuth in which DNA structure prediction, computational chemistry, and machine learning are applied to develop models for TF binding sites. In this approach, binary classifiers are trained to discriminate between true and false binding sites based on the sequence-specific chemical and structural features of DNA. These features are determined via molecular dynamics calculations in which we consider each base in different local neighborhoods. For each of 54 TFs in Escherichia coli, for which at least five DNA binding sites are documented in RegulonDB, the TF binding sites and portions of the non-coding genome sequence are mapped to feature vectors and used in training. According to cross-validation analysis and a comparison of computational predictions against ChIP-chip data available for the TF Fis, SiteSleuth outperforms three conventional approaches: Match, MATRIX SEARCH, and the method of Berg and von Hippel. SiteSleuth also outperforms QPMEME, a method similar to SiteSleuth in that it involves a learning algorithm. The main advantage of SiteSleuth is a lower false positive rate.
Author Summary
An important step in characterizing the genetic regulatory network of a cell is to identify the DNA binding sites recognized by each transcription factor (TF) protein encoded in the genome. Current computational approaches to TF binding site prediction rely exclusively on DNA sequence analysis. In this manuscript, we present a novel method called SiteSleuth, in which classifiers are trained to discriminate between true and false binding sites based on the sequence-specific chemical and structural features of DNA. According to cross-validation analysis and a comparison of computational predictions against ChIP-chip data available for the TF Fis, SiteSleuth predicts fewer estimated false positives than any of four other methods considered. A better understanding of gene regulation, which plays a central role in cellular responses to environmental changes, is a key to manipulating cellular behavior for a variety of useful purposes, as in metabolic engineering applications.
PMCID: PMC2987836  PMID: 21124945
24.  Sequence Based Prediction of DNA-Binding Proteins Based on Hybrid Feature Selection Using Random Forest and Gaussian Naïve Bayes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e86703.
Developing an efficient method for determination of the DNA-binding proteins, due to their vital roles in gene regulation, is becoming highly desired since it would be invaluable to advance our understanding of protein functions. In this study, we proposed a new method for the prediction of the DNA-binding proteins, by performing the feature rank using random forest and the wrapper-based feature selection using forward best-first search strategy. The features comprise information from primary sequence, predicted secondary structure, predicted relative solvent accessibility, and position specific scoring matrix. The proposed method, called DBPPred, used Gaussian naïve Bayes as the underlying classifier since it outperformed five other classifiers, including decision tree, logistic regression, k-nearest neighbor, support vector machine with polynomial kernel, and support vector machine with radial basis function. As a result, the proposed DBPPred yields the highest average accuracy of 0.791 and average MCC of 0.583 according to the five-fold cross validation with ten runs on the training benchmark dataset PDB594. Subsequently, blind tests on the independent dataset PDB186 by the proposed model trained on the entire PDB594 dataset and by other five existing methods (including iDNA-Prot, DNA-Prot, DNAbinder, DNABIND and DBD-Threader) were performed, resulting in that the proposed DBPPred yielded the highest accuracy of 0.769, MCC of 0.538, and AUC of 0.790. The independent tests performed by the proposed DBPPred on completely a large non-DNA binding protein dataset and two RNA binding protein datasets also showed improved or comparable quality when compared with the relevant prediction methods. Moreover, we observed that majority of the selected features by the proposed method are statistically significantly different between the mean feature values of the DNA-binding and the non DNA-binding proteins. All of the experimental results indicate that the proposed DBPPred can be an alternative perspective predictor for large-scale determination of DNA-binding proteins.
PMCID: PMC3901691  PMID: 24475169
25.  The Next Generation of Transcription Factor Binding Site Prediction 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(9):e1003214.
Finding where transcription factors (TFs) bind to the DNA is of key importance to decipher gene regulation at a transcriptional level. Classically, computational prediction of TF binding sites (TFBSs) is based on basic position weight matrices (PWMs) which quantitatively score binding motifs based on the observed nucleotide patterns in a set of TFBSs for the corresponding TF. Such models make the strong assumption that each nucleotide participates independently in the corresponding DNA-protein interaction and do not account for flexible length motifs. We introduce transcription factor flexible models (TFFMs) to represent TF binding properties. Based on hidden Markov models, TFFMs are flexible, and can model both position interdependence within TFBSs and variable length motifs within a single dedicated framework. The availability of thousands of experimentally validated DNA-TF interaction sequences from ChIP-seq allows for the generation of models that perform as well as PWMs for stereotypical TFs and can improve performance for TFs with flexible binding characteristics. We present a new graphical representation of the motifs that convey properties of position interdependence. TFFMs have been assessed on ChIP-seq data sets coming from the ENCODE project, revealing that they can perform better than both PWMs and the dinucleotide weight matrix extension in discriminating ChIP-seq from background sequences. Under the assumption that ChIP-seq signal values are correlated with the affinity of the TF-DNA binding, we find that TFFM scores correlate with ChIP-seq peak signals. Moreover, using available TF-DNA affinity measurements for the Max TF, we demonstrate that TFFMs constructed from ChIP-seq data correlate with published experimentally measured DNA-binding affinities. Finally, TFFMs allow for the straightforward computation of an integrated TF occupancy score across a sequence. These results demonstrate the capacity of TFFMs to accurately model DNA-protein interactions, while providing a single unified framework suitable for the next generation of TFBS prediction.
Author Summary
Transcription factors are critical proteins for sequence-specific control of transcriptional regulation. Finding where these proteins bind to DNA is of key importance for global efforts to decipher the complex mechanisms of gene regulation. Greater understanding of the regulation of transcription promises to improve human genetic analysis by specifying critical gene components that have eluded investigators. Classically, computational prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) is based on models giving weights to each nucleotide at each position. We introduce a novel statistical model for the prediction of TFBS tolerant of a broader range of TFBS configurations than can be conveniently accommodated by existing methods. The new models are designed to address the confounding properties of nucleotide composition, inter-positional sequence dependence and variable lengths (e.g. variable spacing between half-sites) observed in the more comprehensive experimental data now emerging. The new models generate scores consistent with DNA-protein affinities measured experimentally and can be represented graphically, retaining desirable attributes of past methods. It demonstrates the capacity of the new approach to accurately assess DNA-protein interactions. With the rich experimental data generated from chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, a greater diversity of TFBS properties has emerged that can now be accommodated within a single predictive approach.
PMCID: PMC3764009  PMID: 24039567

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