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1.  R-Coffee: a method for multiple alignment of non-coding RNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(9):e52.
R-Coffee is a multiple RNA alignment package, derived from T-Coffee, designed to align RNA sequences while exploiting secondary structure information. R-Coffee uses an alignment-scoring scheme that incorporates secondary structure information within the alignment. It works particularly well as an alignment improver and can be combined with any existing sequence alignment method. In this work, we used R-Coffee to compute multiple sequence alignments combining the pairwise output of sequence aligners and structural aligners. We show that R-Coffee can improve the accuracy of all the sequence aligners. We also show that the consistency-based component of T-Coffee can improve the accuracy of several structural aligners. R-Coffee was tested on 388 BRAliBase reference datasets and on 11 longer Cmfinder datasets. Altogether our results suggest that the best protocol for aligning short sequences (less than 200 nt) is the combination of R-Coffee with the RNA pairwise structural aligner Consan. We also show that the simultaneous combination of the four best sequence alignment programs with R-Coffee produces alignments almost as accurate as those obtained with R-Coffee/Consan. Finally, we show that R-Coffee can also be used to align longer datasets beyond the usual scope of structural aligners. R-Coffee is freely available for download, along with documentation, from the T-Coffee web site (
PMCID: PMC2396437  PMID: 18420654
2.  A new graph-based method for pairwise global network alignment 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10(Suppl 1):S59.
In addition to component-based comparative approaches, network alignments provide the means to study conserved network topology such as common pathways and more complex network motifs. Yet, unlike in classical sequence alignment, the comparison of networks becomes computationally more challenging, as most meaningful assumptions instantly lead to NP-hard problems. Most previous algorithmic work on network alignments is heuristic in nature.
We introduce the graph-based maximum structural matching formulation for pairwise global network alignment. We relate the formulation to previous work and prove NP-hardness of the problem.
Based on the new formulation we build upon recent results in computational structural biology and present a novel Lagrangian relaxation approach that, in combination with a branch-and-bound method, computes provably optimal network alignments. The Lagrangian algorithm alone is a powerful heuristic method, which produces solutions that are often near-optimal and – unlike those computed by pure heuristics – come with a quality guarantee.
Computational experiments on the alignment of protein-protein interaction networks and on the classification of metabolic subnetworks demonstrate that the new method is reasonably fast and has advantages over pure heuristics. Our software tool is freely available as part of the LISA library.
PMCID: PMC2648773  PMID: 19208162
3.  Multiple alignment-free sequence comparison 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(21):2690-2698.
Motivation: Recently, a range of new statistics have become available for the alignment-free comparison of two sequences based on k-tuple word content. Here, we extend these statistics to the simultaneous comparison of more than two sequences. Our suite of statistics contains, first, and , extensions of statistics for pairwise comparison of the joint k-tuple content of all the sequences, and second, , and , averages of sums of pairwise comparison statistics. The two tasks we consider are, first, to identify sequences that are similar to a set of target sequences, and, second, to measure the similarity within a set of sequences.
Results: Our investigation uses both simulated data as well as cis-regulatory module data where the task is to identify cis-regulatory modules with similar transcription factor binding sites. We find that although for real data, all of our statistics show a similar performance, on simulated data the Shepp-type statistics are in some instances outperformed by star-type statistics. The multiple alignment-free statistics are more sensitive to contamination in the data than the pairwise average statistics.
Availability: Our implementation of the five statistics is available as R package named ‘multiAlignFree’ at be∼fsun/Programs/multiAlignFree/multiAlignFreemain.html.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3799466  PMID: 23990418
4.  DIALIGN-TX: greedy and progressive approaches for segment-based multiple sequence alignment 
DIALIGN-T is a reimplementation of the multiple-alignment program DIALIGN. Due to several algorithmic improvements, it produces significantly better alignments on locally and globally related sequence sets than previous versions of DIALIGN. However, like the original implementation of the program, DIALIGN-T uses a a straight-forward greedy approach to assemble multiple alignments from local pairwise sequence similarities. Such greedy approaches may be vulnerable to spurious random similarities and can therefore lead to suboptimal results. In this paper, we present DIALIGN-TX, a substantial improvement of DIALIGN-T that combines our previous greedy algorithm with a progressive alignment approach.
Our new heuristic produces significantly better alignments, especially on globally related sequences, without increasing the CPU time and memory consumption exceedingly. The new method is based on a guide tree; to detect possible spurious sequence similarities, it employs a vertex-cover approximation on a conflict graph. We performed benchmarking tests on a large set of nucleic acid and protein sequences For protein benchmarks we used the benchmark database BALIBASE 3 and an updated release of the database IRMBASE 2 for assessing the quality on globally and locally related sequences, respectively. For alignment of nucleic acid sequences, we used BRAliBase II for global alignment and a newly developed database of locally related sequences called DIRM-BASE 1. IRMBASE 2 and DIRMBASE 1 are constructed by implanting highly conserved motives at random positions in long unalignable sequences.
On BALIBASE3, our new program performs significantly better than the previous program DIALIGN-T and outperforms the popular global aligner CLUSTAL W, though it is still outperformed by programs that focus on global alignment like MAFFT, MUSCLE and T-COFFEE. On the locally related test sets in IRMBASE 2 and DIRM-BASE 1, our method outperforms all other programs while MAFFT E-INSi is the only method that comes close to the performance of DIALIGN-TX.
PMCID: PMC2430965  PMID: 18505568
5.  Isolated Limb Perfusion for Malignant Melanoma: Systematic Review on Effectiveness and Safety 
The Oncologist  2010;15(4):416-427.
The present study describes the results of a systematic review conducted to objectively assess the clinical effectiveness and toxicity of isolated limb perfusion for the treatment of patients with locally advanced melanoma of the limbs. The technique was found to be safe and efficacious in these patients.
Learning Objectives
After completing this course, the reader will be able to: Compare the response rate of ILP with melphalan and TNF to the response rate of ILP with single-agent melphalan in patients with unresectable locally advanced melanoma of the limbs.Compare the clinical response rates of repeated ILP after a recurrence or PR to a first ILP to clinical response rates after first ILP in patients with unresectable locally advanced melanoma of the limbs.In patients with unresectable malignant melanoma of the limbs, consider use of ILP to avoid amputation.
This article is available for continuing medical education credit at
Isolated limb perfusion (ILP) involves the administration of chemotherapy drugs directly into a limb involved by locoregional metastases. Unresectable locally advanced melanoma of the limbs represents one of the clinical settings in which ILP has demonstrated benefits.
A systematic review of the literature on ILP for patients with unresectable locally advanced melanoma of the limbs was conducted. MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane database searches were conducted to identify studies fulfilling the following inclusion criteria: hyper- or normothermic ILP with melphalan with or without tumor necrosis factor (TNF) or other drugs providing valid data on clinical response, survival, or toxicity. To allocate levels of evidence and grades of recommendation the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network system was used.
Twenty-two studies including 2,018 ILPs were selected with a clear predominance of observational studies (90.90%) against experimental studies (9.10%). The median complete response rate to ILP was of 58.20%, with a median overall response rate of 90.35%. ILP with melphalan yielded a median complete response rate of 46.50%, against a 68.90% median complete response rate for melphalan plus TNF ILP. The median 5-year overall-survival rate was 36.50%, with a median overall survival interval of 36.70 months. The Wieberdink IV and V regional toxicity rates were 2.00% and 0.65%, respectively.
ILP is effective in achieving clinical responses in patients with unresectable locally advanced melanoma of the limbs. The disease-free and overall survival rates provided by ILP are acceptable. ILP is safe, with a low incidence of severe regional and systemic toxicity.
PMCID: PMC3227960  PMID: 20348274
Malignant melanoma; Chemotherapy; Isolated limb perfusion; Melphalan; Tumor necrosis factor
6.  R-Coffee: a web server for accurately aligning noncoding RNA sequences 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(Web Server issue):W10-W13.
The R-Coffee web server produces highly accurate multiple alignments of noncoding RNA (ncRNA) sequences, taking into account predicted secondary structures. R-Coffee uses a novel algorithm recently incorporated in the T-Coffee package. R-Coffee works along the same lines as T-Coffee: it uses pairwise or multiple sequence alignment (MSA) methods to compute a primary library of input alignments. The program then computes an MSA highly consistent with both the alignments contained in the library and the secondary structures associated with the sequences. The secondary structures are predicted using RNAplfold. The server provides two modes. The slow/accurate mode is restricted to small datasets (less than 5 sequences less than 150 nucleotides) and combines R-Coffee with Consan, a very accurate pairwise RNA alignment method. For larger datasets a fast method can be used (RM-Coffee mode), that uses R-Coffee to combine the output of the three packages which combines the outputs from programs found to perform best on RNA (MUSCLE, MAFFT and ProbConsRNA). Our BRAliBase benchmarks indicate that the R-Coffee/Consan combination is one of the best ncRNA alignment methods for short sequences, while the RM-Coffee gives comparable results on longer sequences. The R-Coffee web server is available at
PMCID: PMC2447777  PMID: 18483080
7.  Detecting and Removing Inconsistencies between Experimental Data and Signaling Network Topologies Using Integer Linear Programming on Interaction Graphs 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(9):e1003204.
Cross-referencing experimental data with our current knowledge of signaling network topologies is one central goal of mathematical modeling of cellular signal transduction networks. We present a new methodology for data-driven interrogation and training of signaling networks. While most published methods for signaling network inference operate on Bayesian, Boolean, or ODE models, our approach uses integer linear programming (ILP) on interaction graphs to encode constraints on the qualitative behavior of the nodes. These constraints are posed by the network topology and their formulation as ILP allows us to predict the possible qualitative changes (up, down, no effect) of the activation levels of the nodes for a given stimulus. We provide four basic operations to detect and remove inconsistencies between measurements and predicted behavior: (i) find a topology-consistent explanation for responses of signaling nodes measured in a stimulus-response experiment (if none exists, find the closest explanation); (ii) determine a minimal set of nodes that need to be corrected to make an inconsistent scenario consistent; (iii) determine the optimal subgraph of the given network topology which can best reflect measurements from a set of experimental scenarios; (iv) find possibly missing edges that would improve the consistency of the graph with respect to a set of experimental scenarios the most. We demonstrate the applicability of the proposed approach by interrogating a manually curated interaction graph model of EGFR/ErbB signaling against a library of high-throughput phosphoproteomic data measured in primary hepatocytes. Our methods detect interactions that are likely to be inactive in hepatocytes and provide suggestions for new interactions that, if included, would significantly improve the goodness of fit. Our framework is highly flexible and the underlying model requires only easily accessible biological knowledge. All related algorithms were implemented in a freely available toolbox SigNetTrainer making it an appealing approach for various applications.
Author Summary
Cellular signal transduction is orchestrated by communication networks of signaling proteins commonly depicted on signaling pathway maps. However, each cell type may have distinct variants of signaling pathways, and wiring diagrams are often altered in disease states. The identification of truly active signaling topologies based on experimental data is therefore one key challenge in systems biology of cellular signaling. We present a new framework for training signaling networks based on interaction graphs (IG). In contrast to complex modeling formalisms, IG capture merely the known positive and negative edges between the components. This basic information, however, already sets hard constraints on the possible qualitative behaviors of the nodes when perturbing the network. Our approach uses Integer Linear Programming to encode these constraints and to predict the possible changes (down, neutral, up) of the activation levels of the involved players for a given experiment. Based on this formulation we developed several algorithms for detecting and removing inconsistencies between measurements and network topology. Demonstrated by EGFR/ErbB signaling in hepatocytes, our approach delivers direct conclusions on edges that are likely inactive or missing relative to canonical pathway maps. Such information drives the further elucidation of signaling network topologies under normal and pathological phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3764019  PMID: 24039561
8.  Identifying Drug Effects via Pathway Alterations using an Integer Linear Programming Optimization Formulation on Phosphoproteomic Data 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(12):e1000591.
Understanding the mechanisms of cell function and drug action is a major endeavor in the pharmaceutical industry. Drug effects are governed by the intrinsic properties of the drug (i.e., selectivity and potency) and the specific signaling transduction network of the host (i.e., normal vs. diseased cells). Here, we describe an unbiased, phosphoproteomic-based approach to identify drug effects by monitoring drug-induced topology alterations. With our proposed method, drug effects are investigated under diverse stimulations of the signaling network. Starting with a generic pathway made of logical gates, we build a cell-type specific map by constraining it to fit 13 key phopshoprotein signals under 55 experimental conditions. Fitting is performed via an Integer Linear Program (ILP) formulation and solution by standard ILP solvers; a procedure that drastically outperforms previous fitting schemes. Then, knowing the cell's topology, we monitor the same key phosphoprotein signals under the presence of drug and we re-optimize the specific map to reveal drug-induced topology alterations. To prove our case, we make a topology for the hepatocytic cell-line HepG2 and we evaluate the effects of 4 drugs: 3 selective inhibitors for the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) and a non-selective drug. We confirm effects easily predictable from the drugs' main target (i.e., EGFR inhibitors blocks the EGFR pathway) but we also uncover unanticipated effects due to either drug promiscuity or the cell's specific topology. An interesting finding is that the selective EGFR inhibitor Gefitinib inhibits signaling downstream the Interleukin-1alpha (IL1α) pathway; an effect that cannot be extracted from binding affinity-based approaches. Our method represents an unbiased approach to identify drug effects on small to medium size pathways which is scalable to larger topologies with any type of signaling interventions (small molecules, RNAi, etc). The method can reveal drug effects on pathways, the cornerstone for identifying mechanisms of drug's efficacy.
Author Summary
Cells are complex functional units. Signal transduction refers to the underlying mechanism that regulates cell function, and it is usually depicted on signaling pathways maps. Each cell type has distinct signaling transduction mechanisms, and several diseases arise from alterations on the signaling pathways. Small-molecule inhibitors have emerged as novel pharmaceutical interventions that aim to block certain pathways in an effort to reverse the abnormal phenotype of the diseased cells. Despite that compounds have been well designed to hit certain molecules (i.e., targets), little is known on how they act on an “operative” signaling network. Here, we combine novel high throughput protein-signaling measurements and sophisticated computational techniques to evaluate drug effects on cells. Our approach comprises of two steps: build pathways that simulate cell function and identify drug-induced alterations of those pathways. We employed our approach to evaluate the effects of 4 drugs on a cancer hepatocytic cell type. We were able to confirm the main target of the drugs but also uncover unknown off-target effects. By understanding the drug effects in normal and diseased cells we can provide important information for the analysis of clinical outcomes in order to improve drug efficacy and safety.
PMCID: PMC2776985  PMID: 19997482
9.  A new statistical framework to assess structural alignment quality using information compression 
Bioinformatics  2014;30(17):i512-i518.
Motivation: Progress in protein biology depends on the reliability of results from a handful of computational techniques, structural alignments being one. Recent reviews have highlighted substantial inconsistencies and differences between alignment results generated by the ever-growing stock of structural alignment programs. The lack of consensus on how the quality of structural alignments must be assessed has been identified as the main cause for the observed differences. Current methods assess structural alignment quality by constructing a scoring function that attempts to balance conflicting criteria, mainly alignment coverage and fidelity of structures under superposition. This traditional approach to measuring alignment quality, the subject of considerable literature, has failed to solve the problem. Further development along the same lines is unlikely to rectify the current deficiencies in the field.
Results: This paper proposes a new statistical framework to assess structural alignment quality and significance based on lossless information compression. This is a radical departure from the traditional approach of formulating scoring functions. It links the structural alignment problem to the general class of statistical inductive inference problems, solved using the information-theoretic criterion of minimum message length. Based on this, we developed an efficient and reliable measure of structural alignment quality, I-value. The performance of I-value is demonstrated in comparison with a number of popular scoring functions, on a large collection of competing alignments. Our analysis shows that I-value provides a rigorous and reliable quantification of structural alignment quality, addressing a major gap in the field.
Supplementary information: Online supplementary data are available at
PMCID: PMC4147913  PMID: 25161241
10.  High quality protein sequence alignment by combining structural profile prediction and profile alignment using SABERTOOTH 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:251.
Protein alignments are an essential tool for many bioinformatics analyses. While sequence alignments are accurate for proteins of high sequence similarity, they become unreliable as they approach the so-called 'twilight zone' where sequence similarity gets indistinguishable from random. For such distant pairs, structure alignment is of much better quality. Nevertheless, sequence alignment is the only choice in the majority of cases where structural data is not available. This situation demands development of methods that extend the applicability of accurate sequence alignment to distantly related proteins.
We develop a sequence alignment method that combines the prediction of a structural profile based on the protein's sequence with the alignment of that profile using our recently published alignment tool SABERTOOTH. In particular, we predict the contact vector of protein structures using an artificial neural network based on position-specific scoring matrices generated by PSI-BLAST and align these predicted contact vectors. The resulting sequence alignments are assessed using two different tests: First, we assess the alignment quality by measuring the derived structural similarity for cases in which structures are available. In a second test, we quantify the ability of the significance score of the alignments to recognize structural and evolutionary relationships. As a benchmark we use a representative set of the SCOP (structural classification of proteins) database, with similarities ranging from closely related proteins at SCOP family level, to very distantly related proteins at SCOP fold level. Comparing these results with some prominent sequence alignment tools, we find that SABERTOOTH produces sequence alignments of better quality than those of Clustal W, T-Coffee, MUSCLE, and PSI-BLAST. HHpred, one of the most sophisticated and computationally expensive tools available, outperforms our alignment algorithm at family and superfamily levels, while the use of SABERTOOTH is advantageous for alignments at fold level. Our alignment scheme will profit from future improvements of structural profiles prediction.
We present the automatic sequence alignment tool SABERTOOTH that computes pairwise sequence alignments of very high quality. SABERTOOTH is especially advantageous when applied to alignments of remotely related proteins. The source code is available at, free for academic users upon request.
PMCID: PMC2885375  PMID: 20470364
11.  Ancestral sequence alignment under optimal conditions 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:273.
Multiple genome alignment is an important problem in bioinformatics. An important subproblem used by many multiple alignment approaches is that of aligning two multiple alignments. Many popular alignment algorithms for DNA use the sum-of-pairs heuristic, where the score of a multiple alignment is the sum of its induced pairwise alignment scores. However, the biological meaning of the sum-of-pairs of pairs heuristic is not obvious. Additionally, many algorithms based on the sum-of-pairs heuristic are complicated and slow, compared to pairwise alignment algorithms.
An alternative approach to aligning alignments is to first infer ancestral sequences for each alignment, and then align the two ancestral sequences. In addition to being fast, this method has a clear biological basis that takes into account the evolution implied by an underlying phylogenetic tree.
In this study we explore the accuracy of aligning alignments by ancestral sequence alignment. We examine the use of both maximum likelihood and parsimony to infer ancestral sequences. Additionally, we investigate the effect on accuracy of allowing ambiguity in our ancestral sequences.
We use synthetic sequence data that we generate by simulating evolution on a phylogenetic tree. We use two different types of phylogenetic trees: trees with a period of rapid growth followed by a period of slow growth, and trees with a period of slow growth followed by a period of rapid growth.
We examine the alignment accuracy of four ancestral sequence reconstruction and alignment methods: parsimony, maximum likelihood, ambiguous parsimony, and ambiguous maximum likelihood. Additionally, we compare against the alignment accuracy of two sum-of-pairs algorithms: ClustalW and the heuristic of Ma, Zhang, and Wang.
We find that allowing ambiguity in ancestral sequences does not lead to better multiple alignments. Regardless of whether we use parsimony or maximum likelihood, the success of aligning ancestral sequences containing ambiguity is very sensitive to the choice of gap open cost. Surprisingly, we find that using maximum likelihood to infer ancestral sequences results in less accurate alignments than when using parsimony to infer ancestral sequences. Finally, we find that the sum-of-pairs methods produce better alignments than all of the ancestral alignment methods.
PMCID: PMC1310622  PMID: 16293191
12.  Efficient pairwise RNA structure prediction and alignment using sequence alignment constraints 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:400.
We are interested in the problem of predicting secondary structure for small sets of homologous RNAs, by incorporating limited comparative sequence information into an RNA folding model. The Sankoff algorithm for simultaneous RNA folding and alignment is a basis for approaches to this problem. There are two open problems in applying a Sankoff algorithm: development of a good unified scoring system for alignment and folding and development of practical heuristics for dealing with the computational complexity of the algorithm.
We use probabilistic models (pair stochastic context-free grammars, pairSCFGs) as a unifying framework for scoring pairwise alignment and folding. A constrained version of the pairSCFG structural alignment algorithm was developed which assumes knowledge of a few confidently aligned positions (pins). These pins are selected based on the posterior probabilities of a probabilistic pairwise sequence alignment.
Pairwise RNA structural alignment improves on structure prediction accuracy relative to single sequence folding. Constraining on alignment is a straightforward method of reducing the runtime and memory requirements of the algorithm. Five practical implementations of the pairwise Sankoff algorithm – this work (Consan), David Mathews' Dynalign, Ian Holmes' Stemloc, Ivo Hofacker's PMcomp, and Jan Gorodkin's FOLDALIGN – have comparable overall performance with different strengths and weaknesses.
PMCID: PMC1579236  PMID: 16952317
13.  Comparison of insulin lispro protamine suspension versus insulin glargine once daily added to oral antihyperglycaemic medications and exenatide in type 2 diabetes: a prospective randomized open-label trial 
Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism  2013;16(6):510-518.
To compare efficacy and safety of two, once-daily basal insulin formulations [insulin lispro protamine suspension (ILPS) vs. insulin glargine (glargine)] added to oral antihyperglycaemic medications (OAMs) and exenatide BID in suboptimally controlled type 2 diabetes (T2D) patients.
This 24-week, open-label, multicentre trial randomized patients to bedtime ILPS (n = 171) or glargine (n = 168). Non-inferiority of ILPS versus glargine was assessed by comparing the upper limit of 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for change in haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) from baseline to week 24 (adjusted for baseline HbA1c) with non-inferiority margin 0.4%.
Non-inferiority of ILPS versus glargine was demonstrated: least-squares mean between-treatment difference (ILPS minus glargine) (95% CI) was 0.22% (0.06, 0.38). Mean HbA1c reduction was less for ILPS- versus glargine-treated patients (−1.16 ± 0.84 vs. −1.40 ± 0.97%, p = 0.008). Endpoint HbA1c < 7.0% was achieved by 53.7% (ILPS) and 61.7% (glargine) (p = NS). Overall hypoglycaemia rates (p = NS) and severe hypoglycaemia incidence (p = NS) were similar. Nocturnal hypoglycaemia rate was higher in patients treated with ILPS versus glargine (p = 0.004). Weight gain was similar between groups (ILPS: 0.27 ± 3.38 kg; glargine: 0.66 ± 3.93 kg, p = NS). Endpoint total insulin doses were lower in patients treated with ILPS versus glargine (0.30 ± 0.17 vs. 0.37 ± 0.17 IU/kg/day, p < 0.001).
ILPS was non-inferior to glargine for HbA1c change over 24 weeks, but was associated with less HbA1c reduction and more nocturnal hypoglycaemia. Treat-to-target basal insulin therapy improves glycaemic control and is associated with minimal weight gain when added to OAMs and exenatide BID for suboptimally controlled T2D.
PMCID: PMC4237556  PMID: 24298995
exenatide; glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist therapy; glycaemic control; HbA1c; hypoglycaemia; insulin glargine; insulin lispro protamine suspension; type 2 diabetes
14.  Fast alignment of fragmentation trees 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(12):i265-i273.
Motivation: Mass spectrometry allows sensitive, automated and high-throughput analysis of small molecules such as metabolites. One major bottleneck in metabolomics is the identification of ‘unknown’ small molecules not in any database. Recently, fragmentation tree alignments have been introduced for the automated comparison of the fragmentation patterns of small molecules. Fragmentation pattern similarities are strongly correlated with the chemical similarity of the molecules, and allow us to cluster compounds based solely on their fragmentation patterns.
Results: Aligning fragmentation trees is computationally hard. Nevertheless, we present three exact algorithms for the problem: a dynamic programming (DP) algorithm, a sparse variant of the DP, and an Integer Linear Program (ILP). Evaluation of our methods on three different datasets showed that thousands of alignments can be computed in a matter of minutes using DP, even for ‘challenging’ instances. Running times of the sparse DP were an order of magnitude better than for the classical DP. The ILP was clearly outperformed by both DP approaches. We also found that for both DP algorithms, computing the 1% slowest alignments required as much time as computing the 99% fastest.
PMCID: PMC3371839  PMID: 22689771
15.  Improving the Alignment Quality of Consistency Based Aligners with an Evaluation Function Using Synonymous Protein Words 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e27872.
Most sequence alignment tools can successfully align protein sequences with higher levels of sequence identity. The accuracy of corresponding structure alignment, however, decreases rapidly when considering distantly related sequences (<20% identity). In this range of identity, alignments optimized so as to maximize sequence similarity are often inaccurate from a structural point of view. Over the last two decades, most multiple protein aligners have been optimized for their capacity to reproduce structure-based alignments while using sequence information. Methods currently available differ essentially in the similarity measurement between aligned residues using substitution matrices, Fourier transform, sophisticated profile-profile functions, or consistency-based approaches, more recently.
In this paper, we present a flexible similarity measure for residue pairs to improve the quality of protein sequence alignment. Our approach, called SymAlign, relies on the identification of conserved words found across a sizeable fraction of the considered dataset, and supported by evolutionary analysis. These words are then used to define a position specific substitution matrix that better reflects the biological significance of local similarity. The experiment results show that the SymAlign scoring scheme can be incorporated within T-Coffee to improve sequence alignment accuracy. We also demonstrate that SymAlign is less sensitive to the presence of structurally non-similar proteins. In the analysis of the relationship between sequence identity and structure similarity, SymAlign can better differentiate structurally similar proteins from non- similar proteins.
We show that protein sequence alignments can be significantly improved using a similarity estimation based on weighted n-grams. In our analysis of the alignments thus produced, sequence conservation becomes a better indicator of structural similarity. SymAlign also provides alignment visualization that can display sub-optimal alignments on dot-matrices. The visualization makes it easy to identify well-supported alternative alignments that may not have been identified by dynamic programming. SymAlign is available at
PMCID: PMC3229492  PMID: 22163274
16.  Species Tree Inference by Minimizing Deep Coalescences 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(9):e1000501.
In a 1997 seminal paper, W. Maddison proposed minimizing deep coalescences, or MDC, as an optimization criterion for inferring the species tree from a set of incongruent gene trees, assuming the incongruence is exclusively due to lineage sorting. In a subsequent paper, Maddison and Knowles provided and implemented a search heuristic for optimizing the MDC criterion, given a set of gene trees. However, the heuristic is not guaranteed to compute optimal solutions, and its hill-climbing search makes it slow in practice. In this paper, we provide two exact solutions to the problem of inferring the species tree from a set of gene trees under the MDC criterion. In other words, our solutions are guaranteed to find the tree that minimizes the total number of deep coalescences from a set of gene trees. One solution is based on a novel integer linear programming (ILP) formulation, and another is based on a simple dynamic programming (DP) approach. Powerful ILP solvers, such as CPLEX, make the first solution appealing, particularly for very large-scale instances of the problem, whereas the DP-based solution eliminates dependence on proprietary tools, and its simplicity makes it easy to integrate with other genomic events that may cause gene tree incongruence. Using the exact solutions, we analyze a data set of 106 loci from eight yeast species, a data set of 268 loci from eight Apicomplexan species, and several simulated data sets. We show that the MDC criterion provides very accurate estimates of the species tree topologies, and that our solutions are very fast, thus allowing for the accurate analysis of genome-scale data sets. Further, the efficiency of the solutions allow for quick exploration of sub-optimal solutions, which is important for a parsimony-based criterion such as MDC, as we show. We show that searching for the species tree in the compatibility graph of the clusters induced by the gene trees may be sufficient in practice, a finding that helps ameliorate the computational requirements of optimization solutions. Further, we study the statistical consistency and convergence rate of the MDC criterion, as well as its optimality in inferring the species tree. Finally, we show how our solutions can be used to identify potential horizontal gene transfer events that may have caused some of the incongruence in the data, thus augmenting Maddison's original framework. We have implemented our solutions in the PhyloNet software package, which is freely available at:
Author Summary
Inferring the evolutionary history of a set of species, known as the species tree, is a task of utmost significance in biology and beyond. The traditional approach to accomplishing this task from molecular sequences entails sequencing a gene in the set of species under consideration, reconstructing the gene's evolutionary history, and declaring it to be the species tree. However, recent analyses of multiple gene data sets, made available thanks to advances in sequencing technologies, have indicated that gene trees in the same group of species may disagree with each other, as well as with the species tree. Therefore, the development of methods for inferring the species tree despite such disagreements is imperative.
In this paper, we propose such a method, which seeks the tree that minimizes the amount of disagreement between the input set of gene trees and the inferred one. We have implemented our method and studied its performance, in terms of accuracy and computational efficiency, on two biological data sets and a large number of simulated data sets. Our analyses, of both the biological and synthetic data sets, indicate high accuracy of the method, as well as computationally efficient solutions in practice. Hence, our method makes a good candidate for inferring accurate species trees, despite gene tree disagreements, at a genomic scale.
PMCID: PMC2729383  PMID: 19749978
17.  Sequence Alignment, Mutual Information, and Dissimilarity Measures for Constructing Phylogenies 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e14373.
Existing sequence alignment algorithms use heuristic scoring schemes based on biological expertise, which cannot be used as objective distance metrics. As a result one relies on crude measures, like the p- or log-det distances, or makes explicit, and often too simplistic, a priori assumptions about sequence evolution. Information theory provides an alternative, in the form of mutual information (MI). MI is, in principle, an objective and model independent similarity measure, but it is not widely used in this context and no algorithm for extracting MI from a given alignment (without assuming an evolutionary model) is known. MI can be estimated without alignments, by concatenating and zipping sequences, but so far this has only produced estimates with uncontrolled errors, despite the fact that the normalized compression distance based on it has shown promising results.
We describe a simple approach to get robust estimates of MI from global pairwise alignments. Our main result uses algorithmic (Kolmogorov) information theory, but we show that similar results can also be obtained from Shannon theory. For animal mitochondrial DNA our approach uses the alignments made by popular global alignment algorithms to produce MI estimates that are strikingly close to estimates obtained from the alignment free methods mentioned above. We point out that, due to the fact that it is not additive, normalized compression distance is not an optimal metric for phylogenetics but we propose a simple modification that overcomes the issue of additivity. We test several versions of our MI based distance measures on a large number of randomly chosen quartets and demonstrate that they all perform better than traditional measures like the Kimura or log-det (resp. paralinear) distances.
Several versions of MI based distances outperform conventional distances in distance-based phylogeny. Even a simplified version based on single letter Shannon entropies, which can be easily incorporated in existing software packages, gave superior results throughout the entire animal kingdom. But we see the main virtue of our approach in a more general way. For example, it can also help to judge the relative merits of different alignment algorithms, by estimating the significance of specific alignments. It strongly suggests that information theory concepts can be exploited further in sequence analysis.
PMCID: PMC3014950  PMID: 21245917
18.  PSAR: measuring multiple sequence alignment reliability by probabilistic sampling 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(15):6359-6368.
Multiple sequence alignment, which is of fundamental importance for comparative genomics, is a difficult problem and error-prone. Therefore, it is essential to measure the reliability of the alignments and incorporate it into downstream analyses. We propose a new probabilistic sampling-based alignment reliability (PSAR) score. Instead of relying on heuristic assumptions, such as the correlation between alignment quality and guide tree uncertainty in progressive alignment methods, we directly generate suboptimal alignments from an input multiple sequence alignment by a probabilistic sampling method, and compute the agreement of the input alignment with the suboptimal alignments as the alignment reliability score. We construct the suboptimal alignments by an approximate method that is based on pairwise comparisons between each single sequence and the sub-alignment of the input alignment where the chosen sequence is left out. By using simulation-based benchmarks, we find that our approach is superior to existing ones, supporting that the suboptimal alignments are highly informative source for assessing alignment reliability. We apply the PSAR method to the alignments in the UCSC Genome Browser to measure the reliability of alignments in different types of regions, such as coding exons and conserved non-coding regions, and use it to guide cross-species conservation study.
PMCID: PMC3159474  PMID: 21576232
19.  Evolutionary Triplet Models of Structured RNA 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(8):e1000483.
The reconstruction and synthesis of ancestral RNAs is a feasible goal for paleogenetics. This will require new bioinformatics methods, including a robust statistical framework for reconstructing histories of substitutions, indels and structural changes. We describe a “transducer composition” algorithm for extending pairwise probabilistic models of RNA structural evolution to models of multiple sequences related by a phylogenetic tree. This algorithm draws on formal models of computational linguistics as well as the 1985 protosequence algorithm of David Sankoff. The output of the composition algorithm is a multiple-sequence stochastic context-free grammar. We describe dynamic programming algorithms, which are robust to null cycles and empty bifurcations, for parsing this grammar. Example applications include structural alignment of non-coding RNAs, propagation of structural information from an experimentally-characterized sequence to its homologs, and inference of the ancestral structure of a set of diverged RNAs. We implemented the above algorithms for a simple model of pairwise RNA structural evolution; in particular, the algorithms for maximum likelihood (ML) alignment of three known RNA structures and a known phylogeny and inference of the common ancestral structure. We compared this ML algorithm to a variety of related, but simpler, techniques, including ML alignment algorithms for simpler models that omitted various aspects of the full model and also a posterior-decoding alignment algorithm for one of the simpler models. In our tests, incorporation of basepair structure was the most important factor for accurate alignment inference; appropriate use of posterior-decoding was next; and fine details of the model were least important. Posterior-decoding heuristics can be substantially faster than exact phylogenetic inference, so this motivates the use of sum-over-pairs heuristics where possible (and approximate sum-over-pairs). For more exact probabilistic inference, we discuss the use of transducer composition for ML (or MCMC) inference on phylogenies, including possible ways to make the core operations tractable.
Author Summary
A number of leading methods for bioinformatics analysis of structural RNAs use probabilistic grammars as models for pairs of homologous RNAs. We show that any such pairwise grammar can be extended to an entire phylogeny by treating the pairwise grammar as a machine (a “transducer”) that models a single ancestor-descendant relationship in the tree, transforming one RNA structure into another. In addition to phylogenetic enhancement of current applications, such as RNA genefinding, homology detection, alignment and secondary structure prediction, this should enable probabilistic phylogenetic reconstruction of RNA sequences that are ancestral to present-day genes. We describe statistical inference algorithms, software implementations, and a simulation-based comparison of three-taxon maximum likelihood alignment to several other methods for aligning three sibling RNAs. In the Discussion we consider how the three-taxon RNA alignment-reconstruction-folding algorithm, which is currently very computationally-expensive, might be made more efficient so that larger phylogenies could be considered.
PMCID: PMC2725318  PMID: 19714212
20.  Improved accuracy of multiple ncRNA alignment by incorporating structural information into a MAFFT-based framework 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9:212.
Structural alignment of RNAs is becoming important, since the discovery of functional non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). Recent studies, mainly based on various approximations of the Sankoff algorithm, have resulted in considerable improvement in the accuracy of pairwise structural alignment. In contrast, for the cases with more than two sequences, the practical merit of structural alignment remains unclear as compared to traditional sequence-based methods, although the importance of multiple structural alignment is widely recognized.
We took a different approach from a straightforward extension of the Sankoff algorithm to the multiple alignments from the viewpoints of accuracy and time complexity. As a new option of the MAFFT alignment program, we developed a multiple RNA alignment framework, X-INS-i, which builds a multiple alignment with an iterative method incorporating structural information through two components: (1) pairwise structural alignments by an external pairwise alignment method such as SCARNA or LaRA and (2) a new objective function, Four-way Consistency, derived from the base-pairing probability of every sub-aligned group at every multiple alignment stage.
The BRAliBASE benchmark showed that X-INS-i outperforms other methods currently available in the sum-of-pairs score (SPS) criterion. As a basis for predicting common secondary structure, the accuracy of the present method is comparable to or rather higher than those of the current leading methods such as RNA Sampler. The X-INS-i framework can be used for building a multiple RNA alignment from any combination of algorithms for pairwise RNA alignment and base-pairing probability. The source code is available at the webpage found in the Availability and requirements section.
PMCID: PMC2387179  PMID: 18439255
21.  SSW Library: An SIMD Smith-Waterman C/C++ Library for Use in Genomic Applications 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82138.
The Smith-Waterman algorithm, which produces the optimal pairwise alignment between two sequences, is frequently used as a key component of fast heuristic read mapping and variation detection tools for next-generation sequencing data. Though various fast Smith-Waterman implementations are developed, they are either designed as monolithic protein database searching tools, which do not return detailed alignment, or are embedded into other tools. These issues make reusing these efficient Smith-Waterman implementations impractical.
To facilitate easy integration of the fast Single-Instruction-Multiple-Data Smith-Waterman algorithm into third-party software, we wrote a C/C++ library, which extends Farrar’s Striped Smith-Waterman (SSW) to return alignment information in addition to the optimal Smith-Waterman score. In this library we developed a new method to generate the full optimal alignment results and a suboptimal score in linear space at little cost of efficiency. This improvement makes the fast Single-Instruction-Multiple-Data Smith-Waterman become really useful in genomic applications. SSW is available both as a C/C++ software library, as well as a stand-alone alignment tool at:
The SSW library has been used in the primary read mapping tool MOSAIK, the split-read mapping program SCISSORS, the MEI detector TANGRAM, and the read-overlap graph generation program RZMBLR. The speeds of the mentioned software are improved significantly by replacing their ordinary Smith-Waterman or banded Smith-Waterman module with the SSW Library.
PMCID: PMC3852983  PMID: 24324759
22.  Fast Pairwise Structural RNA Alignments by Pruning of the Dynamical Programming Matrix 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(10):e193.
It has become clear that noncoding RNAs (ncRNA) play important roles in cells, and emerging studies indicate that there might be a large number of unknown ncRNAs in mammalian genomes. There exist computational methods that can be used to search for ncRNAs by comparing sequences from different genomes. One main problem with these methods is their computational complexity, and heuristics are therefore employed. Two heuristics are currently very popular: pre-folding and pre-aligning. However, these heuristics are not ideal, as pre-aligning is dependent on sequence similarity that may not be present and pre-folding ignores the comparative information. Here, pruning of the dynamical programming matrix is presented as an alternative novel heuristic constraint. All subalignments that do not exceed a length-dependent minimum score are discarded as the matrix is filled out, thus giving the advantage of providing the constraints dynamically. This has been included in a new implementation of the FOLDALIGN algorithm for pairwise local or global structural alignment of RNA sequences. It is shown that time and memory requirements are dramatically lowered while overall performance is maintained. Furthermore, a new divide and conquer method is introduced to limit the memory requirement during global alignment and backtrack of local alignment. All branch points in the computed RNA structure are found and used to divide the structure into smaller unbranched segments. Each segment is then realigned and backtracked in a normal fashion. Finally, the FOLDALIGN algorithm has also been updated with a better memory implementation and an improved energy model. With these improvements in the algorithm, the FOLDALIGN software package provides the molecular biologist with an efficient and user-friendly tool for searching for new ncRNAs. The software package is available for download at
Author Summary
FOLDALIGN is an algorithm for making pairwise structural alignments of RNA sequences. It uses a lightweight energy model and sequence similarity to simultaneously fold and align the sequences. The algorithm can make local and global alignments. The power of structural alignment methods is that they can align sequences where the primary sequences have diverged too much for normal alignment methods to be useful. The structures predicted by structural alignment methods are usually better than the structures predicted by single-sequence folding methods since they can take comparative information into account. The main problem for most structural alignment methods is that they are too computationally expensive. In this paper we introduce the dynamical pruning heuristic that makes the FOLDALIGN method significantly faster without lowering the predictive performance. The memory requirements are also significantly lowered, allowing for the analysis of longer sequences. A user-friendly (still command-line based, though) implementation of the algorithm is available at the Web site:
PMCID: PMC2014794  PMID: 17937495
23.  Integrated web service for improving alignment quality based on segments comparison 
BMC Bioinformatics  2004;5:98.
Defining blocks forming the global protein structure on the basis of local structural regularity is a very fruitful idea, extensively used in description, and prediction of structure from only sequence information. Over many years the secondary structure elements were used as available building blocks with great success. Specially prepared sets of possible structural motifs can be used to describe similarity between very distant, non-homologous proteins. The reason for utilizing the structural information in the description of proteins is straightforward. Structural comparison is able to detect approximately twice as many distant relationships as sequence comparison at the same error rate.
Here we provide a new fragment library for Local Structure Segment (LSS) prediction called FRAGlib which is integrated with a previously described segment alignment algorithm SEA. A joined FRAGlib/SEA server provides easy access to both algorithms, allowing a one stop alignment service using a novel approach to protein sequence alignment based on a network matching approach. The FRAGlib used as secondary structure prediction achieves only 73% accuracy in Q3 measure, but when combined with the SEA alignment, it achieves a significant improvement in pairwise sequence alignment quality, as compared to previous SEA implementation and other public alignment algorithms. The FRAGlib algorithm takes ~2 min. to search over FRAGlib database for a typical query protein with 500 residues. The SEA service align two typical proteins within circa ~5 min. All supplementary materials (detailed results of all the benchmarks, the list of test proteins and the whole fragments library) are available for download on-line at .
The joined FRAGlib/SEA server will be a valuable tool both for molecular biologists working on protein sequence analysis and for bioinformaticians developing computational methods of structure prediction and alignment of proteins.
PMCID: PMC497040  PMID: 15271224
Library of protein motifs; Profile-profile sequence similarity (BLAST; FFAS); Fragments library (FRAGlib); Predicted Local Structure Segments (PLSSs); Segment Alignment (SEA); Network matching problem
24.  Improvement in accuracy of multiple sequence alignment using novel group-to-group sequence alignment algorithm with piecewise linear gap cost 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:524.
Multiple sequence alignment (MSA) is a useful tool in bioinformatics. Although many MSA algorithms have been developed, there is still room for improvement in accuracy and speed. In the alignment of a family of protein sequences, global MSA algorithms perform better than local ones in many cases, while local ones perform better than global ones when some sequences have long insertions or deletions (indels) relative to others. Many recent leading MSA algorithms have incorporated pairwise alignment information obtained from a mixture of sources into their scoring system to improve accuracy of alignment containing long indels.
We propose a novel group-to-group sequence alignment algorithm that uses a piecewise linear gap cost. We developed a program called PRIME, which employs our proposed algorithm to optimize the well-defined sum-of-pairs score. PRIME stands for Profile-based Randomized Iteration MEthod. We evaluated PRIME and some recent MSA programs using BAliBASE version 3.0 and PREFAB version 4.0 benchmarks. The results of benchmark tests showed that PRIME can construct accurate alignments comparable to the most accurate programs currently available, including L-INS-i of MAFFT, ProbCons, and T-Coffee.
PRIME enables users to construct accurate alignments without having to employ pairwise alignment information. PRIME is available at .
PMCID: PMC1769516  PMID: 17137519
25.  Accurate Detection of Recombinant Breakpoints in Whole-Genome Alignments 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(3):e1000318.
We propose a novel method for detecting sites of molecular recombination in multiple alignments. Our approach is a compromise between previous extremes of computationally prohibitive but mathematically rigorous methods and imprecise heuristic methods. Using a combined algorithm for estimating tree structure and hidden Markov model parameters, our program detects changes in phylogenetic tree topology over a multiple sequence alignment. We evaluate our method on benchmark datasets from previous studies on two recombinant pathogens, Neisseria and HIV-1, as well as simulated data. We show that we are not only able to detect recombinant regions of vastly different sizes but also the location of breakpoints with great accuracy. We show that our method does well inferring recombination breakpoints while at the same time maintaining practicality for larger datasets. In all cases, we confirm the breakpoint predictions of previous studies, and in many cases we offer novel predictions.
Author Summary
In viral and bacterial pathogens, recombination has the ability to combine fitness-enhancing mutations. Accurate characterization of recombinant breakpoints in newly sequenced strains can provide information about the role of this process in evolution, for example, in immune evasion. Of particular interest are situations of an admixture of pathogen subspecies, recombination between whose genomes may change the apparent phylogenetic tree topology in different regions of a multiple-genome alignment. We describe an algorithm that can pinpoint recombination breakpoints to greater accuracy than previous methods, allowing detection of both short recombinant regions and long-range multiple crossovers. The algorithm is appropriate for the analysis of fast-evolving pathogen sequences where repeated substitutions may be observed at a single site in a multiple alignment (violating the “infinite sites” assumption inherent to some other breakpoint-detection algorithms). Simulations demonstrate the practicality of our implementation for alignments of longer sequences and more taxa than previous methods.
PMCID: PMC2651022  PMID: 19300487

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