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1.  Application of experimentally verified transcription factor binding sites models for computational analysis of ChIP-Seq data 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:80.
ChIP-Seq is widely used to detect genomic segments bound by transcription factors (TF), either directly at DNA binding sites (BSs) or indirectly via other proteins. Currently, there are many software tools implementing different approaches to identify TFBSs within ChIP-Seq peaks. However, their use for the interpretation of ChIP-Seq data is usually complicated by the absence of direct experimental verification, making it difficult both to set a threshold to avoid recognition of too many false-positive BSs, and to compare the actual performance of different models.
Using ChIP-Seq data for FoxA2 binding loci in mouse adult liver and human HepG2 cells we compared FoxA binding-site predictions for four computational models of two fundamental classes: pattern matching based on existing training set of experimentally confirmed TFBSs (oPWM and SiteGA) and de novo motif discovery (ChIPMunk and diChIPMunk). To properly select prediction thresholds for the models, we experimentally evaluated affinity of 64 predicted FoxA BSs using EMSA that allows safely distinguishing sequences able to bind TF. As a result we identified thousands of reliable FoxA BSs within ChIP-Seq loci from mouse liver and human HepG2 cells. It was found that the performance of conventional position weight matrix (PWM) models was inferior with the highest false positive rate. On the contrary, the best recognition efficiency was achieved by the combination of SiteGA & diChIPMunk/ChIPMunk models, properly identifying FoxA BSs in up to 90% of loci for both mouse and human ChIP-Seq datasets.
The experimental study of TF binding to oligonucleotides corresponding to predicted sites increases the reliability of computational methods for TFBS-recognition in ChIP-Seq data analysis. Regarding ChIP-Seq data interpretation, basic PWMs have inferior TFBS recognition quality compared to the more sophisticated SiteGA and de novo motif discovery methods. A combination of models from different principles allowed identification of proper TFBSs.
PMCID: PMC4234207  PMID: 24472686
ChIP-Seq; EMSA; Transcription factor binding sites; FoxA; SiteGA; PWM; Transcription factor binding model; Dinucleotide frequencies
2.  A General Pairwise Interaction Model Provides an Accurate Description of In Vivo Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99015.
The identification of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on genomic DNA is of crucial importance for understanding and predicting regulatory elements in gene networks. TFBS motifs are commonly described by Position Weight Matrices (PWMs), in which each DNA base pair contributes independently to the transcription factor (TF) binding. However, this description ignores correlations between nucleotides at different positions, and is generally inaccurate: analysing fly and mouse in vivo ChIPseq data, we show that in most cases the PWM model fails to reproduce the observed statistics of TFBSs. To overcome this issue, we introduce the pairwise interaction model (PIM), a generalization of the PWM model. The model is based on the principle of maximum entropy and explicitly describes pairwise correlations between nucleotides at different positions, while being otherwise as unconstrained as possible. It is mathematically equivalent to considering a TF-DNA binding energy that depends additively on each nucleotide identity at all positions in the TFBS, like the PWM model, but also additively on pairs of nucleotides. We find that the PIM significantly improves over the PWM model, and even provides an optimal description of TFBS statistics within statistical noise. The PIM generalizes previous approaches to interdependent positions: it accounts for co-variation of two or more base pairs, and predicts secondary motifs, while outperforming multiple-motif models consisting of mixtures of PWMs. We analyse the structure of pairwise interactions between nucleotides, and find that they are sparse and dominantly located between consecutive base pairs in the flanking region of TFBS. Nonetheless, interactions between pairs of non-consecutive nucleotides are found to play a significant role in the obtained accurate description of TFBS statistics. The PIM is computationally tractable, and provides a general framework that should be useful for describing and predicting TFBSs beyond PWMs.
PMCID: PMC4057186  PMID: 24926895
3.  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
4.  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
5.  Dinucleotide Weight Matrices for Predicting Transcription Factor Binding Sites: Generalizing the Position Weight Matrix 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9722.
Identifying transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) in silico is key in understanding gene regulation. TFBS are string patterns that exhibit some variability, commonly modelled as “position weight matrices” (PWMs). Though convenient, the PWM has significant limitations, in particular the assumed independence of positions within the binding motif; and predictions based on PWMs are usually not very specific to known functional sites. Analysis here on binding sites in yeast suggests that correlation of dinucleotides is not limited to near-neighbours, but can extend over considerable gaps.
Methodology/Principal Findings
I describe a straightforward generalization of the PWM model, that considers frequencies of dinucleotides instead of individual nucleotides. Unlike previous efforts, this method considers all dinucleotides within an extended binding region, and does not make an attempt to determine a priori the significance of particular dinucleotide correlations. I describe how to use a “dinucleotide weight matrix” (DWM) to predict binding sites, dealing in particular with the complication that its entries are not independent probabilities. Benchmarks show, for many factors, a dramatic improvement over PWMs in precision of predicting known targets. In most cases, significant further improvement arises by extending the commonly defined “core motifs” by about 10bp on either side. Though this flanking sequence shows no strong motif at the nucleotide level, the predictive power of the dinucleotide model suggests that the “signature” in DNA sequence of protein-binding affinity extends beyond the core protein-DNA contact region.
While computationally more demanding and slower than PWM-based approaches, this dinucleotide method is straightforward, both conceptually and in implementation, and can serve as a basis for future improvements.
PMCID: PMC2842295  PMID: 20339533
6.  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
7.  A Bayesian Search for Transcriptional Motifs 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13897.
Identifying transcription factor (TF) binding sites (TFBSs) is an important step towards understanding transcriptional regulation. A common approach is to use gaplessly aligned, experimentally supported TFBSs for a particular TF, and algorithmically search for more occurrences of the same TFBSs. The largest publicly available databases of TF binding specificities contain models which are represented as position weight matrices (PWM). There are other methods using more sophisticated representations, but these have more limited databases, or aren't publicly available. Therefore, this paper focuses on methods that search using one PWM per TF. An algorithm, MATCHTM, for identifying TFBSs corresponding to a particular PWM is available, but is not based on a rigorous statistical model of TF binding, making it difficult to interpret or adjust the parameters and output of the algorithm. Furthermore, there is no public description of the algorithm sufficient to exactly reproduce it. Another algorithm, MAST, computes a p-value for the presence of a TFBS using true probabilities of finding each base at each offset from that position. We developed a statistical model, BaSeTraM, for the binding of TFs to TFBSs, taking into account random variation in the base present at each position within a TFBS. Treating the counts in the matrices and the sequences of sites as random variables, we combine this TFBS composition model with a background model to obtain a Bayesian classifier. We implemented our classifier in a package (SBaSeTraM). We tested SBaSeTraM against a MATCHTM implementation by searching all probes used in an experimental Saccharomyces cerevisiae TF binding dataset, and comparing our predictions to the data. We found no statistically significant differences in sensitivity between the algorithms (at fixed selectivity), indicating that SBaSeTraM's performance is at least comparable to the leading currently available algorithm. Our software is freely available at:
PMCID: PMC2987817  PMID: 21124986
8.  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
9.  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
10.  Jaccard index based similarity measure to compare transcription factor binding site models 
Positional weight matrix (PWM) remains the most popular for quantification of transcription factor (TF) binding. PWM supplied with a score threshold defines a set of putative transcription factor binding sites (TFBS), thus providing a TFBS model.
TF binding DNA fragments obtained by different experimental methods usually give similar but not identical PWMs. This is also common for different TFs from the same structural family. Thus it is often necessary to measure the similarity between PWMs. The popular tools compare PWMs directly using matrix elements. Yet, for log-odds PWMs, negative elements do not contribute to the scores of highly scoring TFBS and thus may be different without affecting the sets of the best recognized binding sites. Moreover, the two TFBS sets recognized by a given pair of PWMs can be more or less different depending on the score thresholds.
We propose a practical approach for comparing two TFBS models, each consisting of a PWM and the respective scoring threshold. The proposed measure is a variant of the Jaccard index between two TFBS sets. The measure defines a metric space for TFBS models of all finite lengths. The algorithm can compare TFBS models constructed using substantially different approaches, like PWMs with raw positional counts and log-odds. We present the efficient software implementation: MACRO-APE (MAtrix CompaRisOn by Approximate P-value Estimation).
MACRO-APE can be effectively used to compute the Jaccard index based similarity for two TFBS models. A two-pass scanning algorithm is presented to scan a given collection of PWMs for PWMs similar to a given query.
Availability and implementation
MACRO-APE is implemented in ruby 1.9; software including source code and a manual is freely available at and in supplementary materials.
PMCID: PMC3851813  PMID: 24074225
Transcription factor binding site; TFBS; Transcription factor binding site model; Binding motif; Jaccard similarity; Position weight matrix; PWM; P-value; Position specific frequency matrix; PSFM; Macroape
11.  Fine-Tuning Enhancer Models to Predict Transcriptional Targets across Multiple Genomes 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(11):e1115.
Networks of regulatory relations between transcription factors (TF) and their target genes (TG)- implemented through TF binding sites (TFBS)- are key features of biology. An idealized approach to solving such networks consists of starting from a consensus TFBS or a position weight matrix (PWM) to generate a high accuracy list of candidate TGs for biological validation. Developing and evaluating such approaches remains a formidable challenge in regulatory bioinformatics. We perform a benchmark study on 34 Drosophila TFs to assess existing TFBS and cis-regulatory module (CRM) detection methods, with a strong focus on the use of multiple genomes. Particularly, for CRM-modelling we investigate the addition of orthologous sites to a known PWM to construct phyloPWMs and we assess the added value of phylogenentic footprinting to predict contextual motifs around known TFBSs. For CRM-prediction, we compare motif conservation with network-level conservation approaches across multiple genomes. Choosing the optimal training and scoring strategies strongly enhances the performance of TG prediction for more than half of the tested TFs. Finally, we analyse a 35th TF, namely Eyeless, and find a significant overlap between predicted TGs and candidate TGs identified by microarray expression studies. In summary we identify several ways to optimize TF-specific TG predictions, some of which can be applied to all TFs, and others that can be applied only to particular TFs. The ability to model known TF-TG relations, together with the use of multiple genomes, results in a significant step forward in solving the architecture of gene regulatory networks.
PMCID: PMC2047340  PMID: 17973026
12.  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
13.  Optimizing the GATA-3 position weight matrix to improve the identification of novel binding sites 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:416.
The identifying of binding sites for transcription factors is a key component of gene regulatory network analysis. This is often done using position-weight matrices (PWMs). Because of the importance of in silico mapping of tentative binding sites, we previously developed an approach for PWM optimization that substantially improves the accuracy of such mapping.
The present work implements the optimization algorithm applied to the existing PWM for GATA-3 transcription factor and builds a new di-nucleotide PWM. The existing available PWM is based on experimental data adopted from Jaspar. The optimized PWM substantially improves the sensitivity and specificity of the TF mapping compared to the conventional applications. The refined PWM also facilitates in silico identification of novel binding sites that are supported by experimental data. We also describe uncommon positioning of binding motifs for several T-cell lineage specific factors in human promoters.
Our proposed di-nucleotide PWM approach outperforms the conventional mono-nucleotide PWM approach with respect to GATA-3. Therefore our new di-nucleotide PWM provides new insight into plausible transcriptional regulatory interactions in human promoters.
PMCID: PMC3481455  PMID: 22913572
Transcription factor; Binding sites; GATA-3; Human promoter; Position weight matrix; Optimization
14.  Multiplatform genome-wide identification and modeling of functional human estrogen receptor binding sites 
Genome Biology  2006;7(9):R82.
Refinement of the functional human estrogen receptor binding site model using a multi-platform genome-wide approach reveals extended binding specificity signal.
Transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) impart specificity to cellular transcriptional responses and have largely been defined by consensus motifs derived from a handful of validated sites. The low specificity of the computational predictions of TFBSs has been attributed to ubiquity of the motifs and the relaxed sequence requirements for binding. We posited that the inadequacy is due to limited input of empirically verified sites, and demonstrated a multiplatform approach to constructing a robust model.
Using the TFBS for the estrogen receptor (ER)α (estrogen response element [ERE]) as a model system, we extracted EREs from multiple molecular and genomic platforms whose binding to ERα has been experimentally confirmed or rejected. In silico analyses revealed significant sequence information flanking the standard binding consensus, discriminating ERE-like sequences that bind ERα from those that are nonbinders. We extended the ERE consensus by three bases, bearing a terminal G at the third position 3' and an initiator C at the third position 5', which were further validated using surface plasmon resonance spectroscopy. Our functional human ERE prediction algorithm (h-ERE) outperformed existing predictive algorithms and produced fewer than 5% false negatives upon experimental validation.
Building upon a larger experimentally validated ERE set, the h-ERE algorithm is able to demarcate better the universe of ERE-like sequences that are potential ER binders. Only 14% of the predicted optimal binding sites were utilized under the experimental conditions employed, pointing to other selective criteria not related to EREs. Other factors, in addition to primary nucleotide sequence, will ultimately determine binding site selection.
PMCID: PMC1794554  PMID: 16961928
15.  Identifying Functional Transcription Factor Binding Sites in Yeast by Considering Their Positional Preference in the Promoters 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83791.
Transcription factor binding site (TFBS) identification plays an important role in deciphering gene regulatory codes. With comprehensive knowledge of TFBSs, one can understand molecular mechanisms of gene regulation. In the recent decades, various computational approaches have been proposed to predict TFBSs in the genome. The TFBS dataset of a TF generated by each algorithm is a ranked list of predicted TFBSs of that TF, where top ranked TFBSs are statistically significant ones. However, whether these statistically significant TFBSs are functional (i.e. biologically relevant) is still unknown. Here we develop a post-processor, called the functional propensity calculator (FPC), to assign a functional propensity to each TFBS in the existing computationally predicted TFBS datasets. It is known that functional TFBSs reveal strong positional preference towards the transcriptional start site (TSS). This motivates us to take TFBS position relative to the TSS as the key idea in building our FPC. Based on our calculated functional propensities, the TFBSs of a TF in the original TFBS dataset could be reordered, where top ranked TFBSs are now the ones with high functional propensities. To validate the biological significance of our results, we perform three published statistical tests to assess the enrichment of Gene Ontology (GO) terms, the enrichment of physical protein-protein interactions, and the tendency of being co-expressed. The top ranked TFBSs in our reordered TFBS dataset outperform the top ranked TFBSs in the original TFBS dataset, justifying the effectiveness of our post-processor in extracting functional TFBSs from the original TFBS dataset. More importantly, assigning functional propensities to putative TFBSs enables biologists to easily identify which TFBSs in the promoter of interest are likely to be biologically relevant and are good candidates to do further detailed experimental investigation. The FPC is implemented as a web tool at
PMCID: PMC3873331  PMID: 24386279
16.  CTF: a CRF-based transcription factor binding sites finding system 
BMC Genomics  2012;13(Suppl 8):S18.
Identifying the location of transcription factor bindings is crucial to understand transcriptional regulation. Currently, Chromatin Immunoprecipitation followed with high-throughput Sequencing (ChIP-seq) is able to locate the transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) accurately in high throughput and it has become the gold-standard method for TFBS finding experimentally. However, due to its high cost, it is impractical to apply the method in a very large scale. Considering the large number of transcription factors, numerous cell types and various conditions, computational methods are still very valuable to accurate TFBS identification.
In this paper, we proposed a novel integrated TFBS prediction system, CTF, based on Conditional Random Fields (CRFs). Integrating information from different sources, CTF was able to capture patterns of TFBSs contained in different features (sequence, chromatin and etc) and predicted the TFBS locations with a high accuracy. We compared CTF with several existing tools as well as the PWM baseline method on a dataset generated by ChIP-seq experiments (TFBSs of 13 transcription factors in mouse genome). Results showed that CTF performed significantly better than existing methods tested.
CTF is a powerful tool to predict TFBSs by integrating high throughput data and different features. It can be a useful complement to ChIP-seq and other experimental methods for TFBS identification and thus improve our ability to investigate functional elements in post-genomic era.
Availability: CTF is freely available to academic users at:
PMCID: PMC3535700  PMID: 23282203
17.  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
18.  Position Weight Matrix, Gibbs Sampler, and the Associated Significance Tests in Motif Characterization and Prediction 
Scientifica  2012;2012:917540.
Position weight matrix (PWM) is not only one of the most widely used bioinformatic methods, but also a key component in more advanced computational algorithms (e.g., Gibbs sampler) for characterizing and discovering motifs in nucleotide or amino acid sequences. However, few generally applicable statistical tests are available for evaluating the significance of site patterns, PWM, and PWM scores (PWMS) of putative motifs. Statistical significance tests of the PWM output, that is, site-specific frequencies, PWM itself, and PWMS, are in disparate sources and have never been collected in a single paper, with the consequence that many implementations of PWM do not include any significance test. Here I review PWM-based methods used in motif characterization and prediction (including a detailed illustration of the Gibbs sampler for de novo motif discovery), present statistical and probabilistic rationales behind statistical significance tests relevant to PWM, and illustrate their application with real data. The multiple comparison problem associated with the test of site-specific frequencies is best handled by false discovery rate methods. The test of PWM, due to the use of pseudocounts, is best done by resampling methods. The test of individual PWMS for each sequence segment should be based on the extreme value distribution.
PMCID: PMC3820676  PMID: 24278755
19.  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
20.  Identification of thyroid hormone receptor binding sites in developing mouse cerebellum 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:341.
Thyroid hormones play an essential role in early vertebrate development as well as other key processes. One of its modes of action is to bind to the thyroid hormone receptor (TR) which, in turn, binds to thyroid response elements (TREs) in promoter regions of target genes. The sequence motif for TREs remains largely undefined as does the precise chromosomal location of the TR binding sites. A chromatin immunoprecipitation on microarray (ChIP-chip) experiment was conducted using mouse cerebellum post natal day (PND) 4 and PND15 for the thyroid hormone receptor (TR) beta 1 to map its binding sites on over 5000 gene promoter regions. We have performed a detailed computational analysis of these data.
By analysing a recent spike-in study, the optimal normalization and peak identification approaches were determined for our dataset. Application of these techniques led to the identification of 211 ChIP-chip peaks enriched for TR binding in cerebellum samples. ChIP-PCR validation of 25 peaks led to the identification of 16 true positive TREs. Following a detailed literature review to identify all known mouse TREs, a position weight matrix (PWM) was created representing the classic TRE sequence motif. Various classes of promoter regions were investigated for the presence of this PWM, including permuted sequences, randomly selected promoter sequences, and genes known to be regulated by TH. We found that while the occurrence of the TRE motif is strongly correlated with gene regulation by TH for some genes, other TH-regulated genes do not exhibit an increased density of TRE half-site motifs. Furthermore, we demonstrate that an increase in the rate of occurrence of the half-site motifs does not always indicate the specific location of the TRE within the promoter region. To account for the fact that TR often operates as a dimer, we introduce a novel dual-threshold PWM scanning approach for identifying TREs with a true positive rate of 0.73 and a false positive rate of 0.2. Application of this approach to ChIP-chip peak regions revealed the presence of 85 putative TREs suitable for further in vitro validation.
This study further elucidates TRβ gene regulation in mouse cerebellum, with 211 promoter regions identified to bind to TR. While we have identified 85 putative TREs within these regions, future work will study other mechanisms of action that may mediate the remaining observed TR-binding activity.
PMCID: PMC3716714  PMID: 23701648
21.  An intuitionistic approach to scoring DNA sequences against transcription factor binding site motifs 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:551.
Transcription factors (TFs) control transcription by binding to specific regions of DNA called transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs). The identification of TFBSs is a crucial problem in computational biology and includes the subtask of predicting the location of known TFBS motifs in a given DNA sequence. It has previously been shown that, when scoring matches to known TFBS motifs, interdependencies between positions within a motif should be taken into account. However, this remains a challenging task owing to the fact that sequences similar to those of known TFBSs can occur by chance with a relatively high frequency. Here we present a new method for matching sequences to TFBS motifs based on intuitionistic fuzzy sets (IFS) theory, an approach that has been shown to be particularly appropriate for tackling problems that embody a high degree of uncertainty.
We propose SCintuit, a new scoring method for measuring sequence-motif affinity based on IFS theory. Unlike existing methods that consider dependencies between positions, SCintuit is designed to prevent overestimation of less conserved positions of TFBSs. For a given pair of bases, SCintuit is computed not only as a function of their combined probability of occurrence, but also taking into account the individual importance of each single base at its corresponding position. We used SCintuit to identify known TFBSs in DNA sequences. Our method provides excellent results when dealing with both synthetic and real data, outperforming the sensitivity and the specificity of two existing methods in all the experiments we performed.
The results show that SCintuit improves the prediction quality for TFs of the existing approaches without compromising sensitivity. In addition, we show how SCintuit can be successfully applied to real research problems. In this study the reliability of the IFS theory for motif discovery tasks is proven.
PMCID: PMC3098096  PMID: 21059262
22.  CSI-Tree: a regression tree approach for modeling binding properties of DNA-binding molecules based on cognate site identification (CSI) data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(10):3171-3184.
The identification and characterization of binding sites of DNA-binding molecules, including transcription factors (TFs), is a critical problem at the interface of chemistry, biology and molecular medicine. The Cognate Site Identification (CSI) array is a high-throughput microarray platform for measuring comprehensive recognition profiles of DNA-binding molecules. This technique produces datasets that are useful not only for identifying binding sites of previously uncharacterized TFs but also for elucidating dependencies, both local and nonlocal, between the nucleotides at different positions of the recognition sites. We have developed a regression tree technique, CSI-Tree, for exploring the spectrum of binding sites of DNA-binding molecules. Our approach constructs regression trees utilizing the CSI data of unaligned sequences. The resulting model partitions the binding spectrum into homogeneous regions of position specific nucleotide effects. Each homogeneous partition is then summarized by a position weight matrix (PWM). Hence, the final outcome is a binding intensity rank-ordered collection of PWMs each of which spans a different region in the binding spectrum. Nodes of the regression tree depict the critical position/nucleotide combinations. We analyze the CSI data of the eukaryotic TF Nkx-2.5 and two engineered small molecule DNA ligands and obtain unique insights into their binding properties. The CSI tree for Nkx-2.5 reveals an interaction between two positions of the binding profile and elucidates how different nucleotide combinations at these two positions lead to different binding affinities. The CSI trees for the engineered DNA ligands exhibit a common preference for the dinucleotide AA in the first two positions, which is consistent with preference for a narrow and relatively flat minor groove. We carry out a reanalysis of these data with a mixture of PWMs approach. This approach is an advancement over the simple PWM model and accommodates position dependencies based on only sequence data. Our analysis indicates that the dependencies revealed by the CSI-Tree are challenging to discover without the actual binding intensities. Moreover, such a mixture model is highly sensitive to the number and length of the sequences analyzed. In contrast, CSI-Tree provides interpretable and concise summaries of the complete recognition profiles of DNA-binding molecules by utilizing binding affinities.
PMCID: PMC2425502  PMID: 18411210
23.  Effect of positional dependence and alignment strategy on modeling transcription factor binding sites 
BMC Research Notes  2012;5:340.
Many consensus-based and Position Weight Matrix-based methods for recognizing transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) are not well suited to the variability in the lengths of binding sites. Besides, many methods discard known binding sites while building the model. Moreover, the impact of Information Content (IC) and the positional dependence of nucleotides within an aligned set of TFBS has not been well researched for modeling variable-length binding sites. In this paper, we propose ML-Consensus (Mixed-Length Consensus): a consensus model for variable-length TFBS which does not exclude any reported binding sites.
We consider Pairwise Score (PS) as a measure of positional dependence of nucleotides within an alignment of TFBS. We investigate how the prediction accuracy of ML-Consensus is affected by the incorporation of IC and PS with a particular binding site alignment strategy. We perform cross-validations for datasets of six species from the TRANSFAC public database, and analyze the results using ROC curves and the Wilcoxon matched-pair signed-ranks test.
We observe that the incorporation of IC and PS in ML-Consensus results in statistically significant improvement in the prediction accuracy of the model. Moreover, the existence of a core region among the known binding sites (of any length) is witnessed by the pairwise coexistence of nucleotides within the core length.
These observations suggest the possibility of an efficient multiple sequence alignment algorithm for aligning TFBS, accommodating known binding sites of any length, for optimal (or near-optimal) TFBS prediction. However, designing such an algorithm is a matter of further investigation.
PMCID: PMC3465234  PMID: 22748199
24.  Improved benchmarks for computational motif discovery 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:193.
An important step in annotation of sequenced genomes is the identification of transcription factor binding sites. More than a hundred different computational methods have been proposed, and it is difficult to make an informed choice. Therefore, robust assessment of motif discovery methods becomes important, both for validation of existing tools and for identification of promising directions for future research.
We use a machine learning perspective to analyze collections of transcription factors with known binding sites. Algorithms are presented for finding position weight matrices (PWMs), IUPAC-type motifs and mismatch motifs with optimal discrimination of binding sites from remaining sequence. We show that for many data sets in a recently proposed benchmark suite for motif discovery, none of the common motif models can accurately discriminate the binding sites from remaining sequence. This may obscure the distinction between the potential performance of the motif discovery tool itself versus the intrinsic complexity of the problem we are trying to solve. Synthetic data sets may avoid this problem, but we show on some previously proposed benchmarks that there may be a strong bias towards a presupposed motif model. We also propose a new approach to benchmark data set construction. This approach is based on collections of binding site fragments that are ranked according to the optimal level of discrimination achieved with our algorithms. This allows us to select subsets with specific properties. We present one benchmark suite with data sets that allow good discrimination between positive and negative instances with the common motif models. These data sets are suitable for evaluating algorithms for motif discovery that rely on these models. We present another benchmark suite where PWM, IUPAC and mismatch motif models are not able to discriminate reliably between positive and negative instances. This suite could be used for evaluating more powerful motif models.
Our improved benchmark suites have been designed to differentiate between the performance of motif discovery algorithms and the power of motif models. We provide a web server where users can download our benchmark suites, submit predictions and visualize scores on the benchmarks.
PMCID: PMC1903367  PMID: 17559676
25.  Low nucleosome occupancy is encoded around functional human transcription factor binding sites 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:332.
Transcriptional regulation of genes in eukaryotes is achieved by the interactions of multiple transcription factors with arrays of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on DNA and with each other. Identification of these TFBSs is an essential step in our understanding of gene regulatory networks, but computational prediction of TFBSs with either consensus or commonly used stochastic models such as Position-Specific Scoring Matrices (PSSMs) results in an unacceptably high number of hits consisting of a few true functional binding sites and numerous false non-functional binding sites. This is due to the inability of the models to incorporate higher order properties of sequences including sequences surrounding TFBSs and influencing the positioning of nucleosomes and/or the interactions that might occur between transcription factors.
Significant improvement can be expected through the development of a new framework for the modeling and prediction of TFBSs that considers explicitly these higher order sequence properties. It would be particularly interesting to include in the new modeling framework the information present in the nucleosome positioning sequences (NPSs) surrounding TFBSs, as it can be hypothesized that genomes use this information to encode the formation of stable nucleosomes over non-functional sites, while functional sites have a more open chromatin configuration.
In this report we evaluate the usefulness of the latter feature by comparing the nucleosome occupancy probabilities around experimentally verified human TFBSs with the nucleosome occupancy probabilities around false positive TFBSs and in random sequences.
We present evidence that nucleosome occupancy is remarkably lower around true functional human TFBSs as compared to non-functional human TFBSs, which supports the use of this feature to improve current TFBS prediction approaches in higher eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2490708  PMID: 18627598

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