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1.  Selective Constraints in Experimentally Defined Primate Regulatory Regions 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000157.
Changes in gene regulation may be important in evolution. However, the evolutionary properties of regulatory mutations are currently poorly understood. This is partly the result of an incomplete annotation of functional regulatory DNA in many species. For example, transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), a major component of eukaryotic regulatory architecture, are typically short, degenerate, and therefore difficult to differentiate from randomly occurring, nonfunctional sequences. Furthermore, although sites such as TFBSs can be computationally predicted using evolutionary conservation as a criterion, estimates of the true level of selective constraint (defined as the fraction of strongly deleterious mutations occurring at a locus) in regulatory regions will, by definition, be upwardly biased in datasets that are a priori evolutionarily conserved. Here we investigate the fitness effects of regulatory mutations using two complementary datasets of human TFBSs that are likely to be relatively free of ascertainment bias with respect to evolutionary conservation but, importantly, are supported by experimental data. The first is a collection of almost >2,100 human TFBSs drawn from the literature in the TRANSFAC database, and the second is derived from several recent high-throughput chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with genomic microarray (ChIP-chip) analyses. We also define a set of putative cis-regulatory modules (pCRMs) by spatially clustering multiple TFBSs that regulate the same gene. We find that a relatively high proportion (∼37%) of mutations at TFBSs are strongly deleterious, similar to that at a 2-fold degenerate protein-coding site. However, constraint is significantly reduced in human and chimpanzee pCRMS and ChIP-chip sequences, relative to macaques. We estimate that the fraction of regulatory mutations that have been driven to fixation by positive selection in humans is not significantly different from zero. We also find that the level of selective constraint in our TFBSs, pCRMs, and ChIP-chip sequences is negatively correlated with the expression breadth of the regulated gene, whereas the opposite relationship holds at that gene's nonsynonymous and synonymous sites. Finally, we find that the rate of protein evolution in a transcription factor appears to be positively correlated with the breadth of expression of the gene it regulates. Our study suggests that strongly deleterious regulatory mutations are considerably more likely (1.6-fold) to occur in tissue-specific than in housekeeping genes, implying that there is a fitness cost to increasing “complexity” of gene expression.
Author Summary
Changes in gene expression have been suggested to play a major role in mammalian evolution. In eukaryotes, gene expression is primarily controlled by sites, such as transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), located in the noncoding region of the genome. The majority of these TFBSs remain unannotated, however, because they are typically short, degenerate, and laborious to identify experimentally. As a result, the effects of mutations in TFBSs on organism fitness remain poorly understood. We collected a dataset of TFBSs derived from the experimental biology literature and recent high-throughput studies to estimate the proportions of new mutations in TFBSs that have strongly deleterious and strongly beneficial effects upon organism fitness. We find that a relatively high proportion of new mutations in TFBSs are strongly deleterious, although it appears that relatively few are adaptive. We also demonstrate that the fraction of strongly deleterious regulatory mutations is correlated with the breadth of expression of the regulated gene. Thus, ubiquitously expressed genes are likely to experience fewer deleterious regulatory mutations than those expressed in a small number of tissues.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000157
PMCID: PMC2490716  PMID: 18704158
2.  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 http://santiago.ee.ncku.edu.tw/FPC/.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083791
PMCID: PMC3873331  PMID: 24386279
3.  A Machine Learning Approach for Identifying Novel Cell Type–Specific Transcriptional Regulators of Myogenesis 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002531.
Transcriptional enhancers integrate the contributions of multiple classes of transcription factors (TFs) to orchestrate the myriad spatio-temporal gene expression programs that occur during development. A molecular understanding of enhancers with similar activities requires the identification of both their unique and their shared sequence features. To address this problem, we combined phylogenetic profiling with a DNA–based enhancer sequence classifier that analyzes the TF binding sites (TFBSs) governing the transcription of a co-expressed gene set. We first assembled a small number of enhancers that are active in Drosophila melanogaster muscle founder cells (FCs) and other mesodermal cell types. Using phylogenetic profiling, we increased the number of enhancers by incorporating orthologous but divergent sequences from other Drosophila species. Functional assays revealed that the diverged enhancer orthologs were active in largely similar patterns as their D. melanogaster counterparts, although there was extensive evolutionary shuffling of known TFBSs. We then built and trained a classifier using this enhancer set and identified additional related enhancers based on the presence or absence of known and putative TFBSs. Predicted FC enhancers were over-represented in proximity to known FC genes; and many of the TFBSs learned by the classifier were found to be critical for enhancer activity, including POU homeodomain, Myb, Ets, Forkhead, and T-box motifs. Empirical testing also revealed that the T-box TF encoded by org-1 is a previously uncharacterized regulator of muscle cell identity. Finally, we found extensive diversity in the composition of TFBSs within known FC enhancers, suggesting that motif combinatorics plays an essential role in the cellular specificity exhibited by such enhancers. In summary, machine learning combined with evolutionary sequence analysis is useful for recognizing novel TFBSs and for facilitating the identification of cognate TFs that coordinate cell type–specific developmental gene expression patterns.
Author Summary
The development of multicellular organisms requires the formation of a diversity of cell types. Each cell has a unique genetic program that is orchestrated by regulatory sequences called enhancers, comprising multiple short DNA sequences that bind distinct transcription factors. Understanding developmental regulatory networks requires knowledge of the sequence features of functionally related enhancers. We developed an integrated evolutionary and computational approach for deciphering enhancer regulatory codes and applied this method to discover new components of the transcriptional network controlling muscle development in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Our method involves assembling known muscle enhancers, expanding this set with evolutionarily conserved sequences, computationally classifying these enhancers based on their shared sequence features, and scanning the entire Drosophila genome to predict additional related enhancers. Using this approach, we created a map of 5,500 putative muscle enhancers, identified candidate transcription factors to which they bind, observed a strong correlation between mapped enhancers and muscle gene expression, and uncovered extensive heterogeneity among combinations of transcription factor binding sites in validated muscle enhancers, a feature that may contribute to the individual cellular specificities of these regulatory elements. Our strategy can readily be generalized to study transcriptional networks in other organisms and developmental contexts.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002531
PMCID: PMC3297574  PMID: 22412381
4.  Low nucleosome occupancy is encoded around functional human transcription factor binding sites 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:332.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-332
PMCID: PMC2490708  PMID: 18627598
5.  CTF: a CRF-based transcription factor binding sites finding system 
BMC Genomics  2012;13(Suppl 8):S18.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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: http://cbb.sjtu.edu.cn/~ccwei/pub/software/CTF/CTF.php
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-S8-S18
PMCID: PMC3535700  PMID: 23282203
6.  Large-scale computational identification of regulatory SNPs with rSNP-MAPPER 
BMC Genomics  2012;13(Suppl 4):S7.
Background
The computational analysis of regulatory SNPs (rSNPs) is an essential step in the elucidation of the structure and function of regulatory networks at the cellular level. In this work we focus in particular on SNPs that potentially affect a Transcription Factor Binding Site (TFBS) to a significant extent, possibly resulting in changes to gene expression patterns or alternative splicing. The application described here is based on the MAPPER platform, a previously developed web-based system for the computational detection of TFBSs in DNA sequences.
Methods
rSNP-MAPPER is a computational tool that analyzes SNPs lying within predicted TFBSs and determines whether the allele substitution results in a significant change in the TFBS predictive score. The application's simple and intuitive interface supports several usage modes. For example, the user may search for potential rSNPs in the promoters of one or more genes, specified as a list of identifiers or chosen among the members of a pathway. Alternatively, the user may specify a set of SNPs to be analyzed by uploading a list of SNP identifiers or providing the coordinates of a genomic region. Finally, the user can provide two alternative sequences (wildtype and mutant), and the system will determine the location of variants to be analyzed by comparing them.
Results
In this paper we outline the architecture of rSNP-MAPPER, describing its intuitive and powerful user interface in detail. We then present several examples of the use of rSNP-MAPPER to reproduce and confirm experimental studies aimed at identifying regulatory SNPs in human genes, that show how rSNP-MAPPER is able to detect and characterize rSNPs with high accuracy. Results are richly annotated and can be displayed online or downloaded in a number of different formats.
Conclusions
rSNP-MAPPER is optimized for large scale work, allowing for the efficient annotation of thousands of SNPs, and is designed to assist in the genome-wide investigation of transcriptional regulatory networks, prioritizing potential rSNPs for subsequent experimental validation. rSNP-MAPPER is freely available at http://genome.ufl.edu/mapper/.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-S4-S7
PMCID: PMC3303742  PMID: 22759655
7.  Genome-wide prediction of transcriptional regulatory elements of human promoters using gene expression and promoter analysis data 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:330.
Background
A complete understanding of the regulatory mechanisms of gene expression is the next important issue of genomics. Many bioinformaticians have developed methods and algorithms for predicting transcriptional regulatory mechanisms from sequence, gene expression, and binding data. However, most of these studies involved the use of yeast which has much simpler regulatory networks than human and has many genome wide binding data and gene expression data under diverse conditions. Studies of genome wide transcriptional networks of human genomes currently lag behind those of yeast.
Results
We report herein a new method that combines gene expression data analysis with promoter analysis to infer transcriptional regulatory elements of human genes. The Z scores from the application of gene set analysis with gene sets of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) were successfully used to represent the activity of TFBSs in a given microarray data set. A significant correlation between the Z scores of gene sets of TFBSs and individual genes across multiple conditions permitted successful identification of many known human transcriptional regulatory elements of genes as well as the prediction of numerous putative TFBSs of many genes which will constitute a good starting point for further experiments. Using Z scores of gene sets of TFBSs produced better predictions than the use of mRNA levels of a transcription factor itself, suggesting that the Z scores of gene sets of TFBSs better represent diverse mechanisms for changing the activity of transcription factors in the cell. In addition, cis-regulatory modules, combinations of co-acting TFBSs, were readily identified by our analysis.
Conclusion
By a strategic combination of gene set level analysis of gene expression data sets and promoter analysis, we were able to identify and predict many transcriptional regulatory elements of human genes. We conclude that this approach will aid in decoding some of the important transcriptional regulatory elements of human genes.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-7-330
PMCID: PMC1586028  PMID: 16817975
8.  SNP@lincTFBS: An Integrated Database of Polymorphisms in Human LincRNA Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103851.
Large intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) are a new class of functional transcripts, and aberrant expression of lincRNAs was associated with several human diseases. The genetic variants in lincRNA transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) can change lincRNA expression, thereby affecting the susceptibility to human diseases. To identify and annotate these functional candidates, we have developed a database SNP@lincTFBS, which is devoted to the exploration and annotation of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in potential TFBSs of human lincRNAs. We identified 6,665 SNPs in 6,614 conserved TFBSs of 2,423 human lincRNAs. In addition, with ChIPSeq dataset, we identified 139,576 SNPs in 304,517 transcription factor peaks of 4,813 lincRNAs. We also performed comprehensive annotation for these SNPs using 1000 Genomes Project datasets across 11 populations. Moreover, one of the distinctive features of SNP@lincTFBS is the collection of disease-associated SNPs in the lincRNA TFBSs and SNPs in the TFBSs of disease-associated lincRNAs. The web interface enables both flexible data searches and downloads. Quick search can be query of lincRNA name, SNP identifier, or transcription factor name. SNP@lincTFBS provides significant advances in identification of disease-associated lincRNA variants and improved convenience to interpret the discrepant expression of lincRNAs. The SNP@lincTFBS database is available at http://bioinfo.hrbmu.edu.cn/SNP_lincTFBS.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103851
PMCID: PMC4116217  PMID: 25075616
9.  Effective transcription factor binding site prediction using a combination of optimization, a genetic algorithm and discriminant analysis to capture distant interactions 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:481.
Background
Reliable transcription factor binding site (TFBS) prediction methods are essential for computer annotation of large amount of genome sequence data. However, current methods to predict TFBSs are hampered by the high false-positive rates that occur when only sequence conservation at the core binding-sites is considered.
Results
To improve this situation, we have quantified the performance of several Position Weight Matrix (PWM) algorithms, using exhaustive approaches to find their optimal length and position. We applied these approaches to bio-medically important TFBSs involved in the regulation of cell growth and proliferation as well as in inflammatory, immune, and antiviral responses (NF-κB, ISGF3, IRF1, STAT1), obesity and lipid metabolism (PPAR, SREBP, HNF4), regulation of the steroidogenic (SF-1) and cell cycle (E2F) genes expression. We have also gained extra specificity using a method, entitled SiteGA, which takes into account structural interactions within TFBS core and flanking regions, using a genetic algorithm (GA) with a discriminant function of locally positioned dinucleotide (LPD) frequencies.
To ensure a higher confidence in our approach, we applied resampling-jackknife and bootstrap tests for the comparison, it appears that, optimized PWM and SiteGA have shown similar recognition performances. Then we applied SiteGA and optimized PWMs (both separately and together) to sequences in the Eukaryotic Promoter Database (EPD). The resulting SiteGA recognition models can now be used to search sequences for BSs using the web tool, SiteGA.
Analysis of dependencies between close and distant LPDs revealed by SiteGA models has shown that the most significant correlations are between close LPDs, and are generally located in the core (footprint) region. A greater number of less significant correlations are mainly between distant LPDs, which spanned both core and flanking regions. When SiteGA and optimized PWM models were applied together, this substantially reduced false positives at least at higher stringencies.
Conclusion
Based on this analysis, SiteGA adds substantial specificity even to optimized PWMs and may be considered for large-scale genome analysis. It adds to the range of techniques available for TFBS prediction, and EPD analysis has led to a list of genes which appear to be regulated by the above TFs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-481
PMCID: PMC2265442  PMID: 18093302
10.  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: http://wiki.github.com/A1kmm/sbasetram/building-the-tools.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013897
PMCID: PMC2987817  PMID: 21124986
11.  Discovery of sequence motifs related to coexpression of genes using evolutionary computation 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(13):3826-3835.
Transcription factors are key regulatory elements that control gene expression. Recognition of transcription factor binding site (TFBS) motifs in the upstream region of coexpressed genes is therefore critical towards a true understanding of the regulations of gene expression. The task of discovering eukaryotic TFBSs remains a challenging problem. Here, we demonstrate that evolutionary computation can be used to search for TFBSs in upstream regions of genes known to be coexpressed. Evolutionary computation was used to search for TFBSs of genes regulated by octamer-binding factor and nuclear factor kappa B. The discovered binding sites included experimentally determined known binding motifs as well as lists of putative, previously unknown TFBSs. We believe that this method to search nucleotide sequence information efficiently for similar motifs will be useful for discovering TFBSs that affect gene regulation.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkh713
PMCID: PMC506801  PMID: 15266008
12.  A probabilistic approach to learn chromatin architecture and accurate inference of the NF-κB/RelA regulatory network using ChIP-Seq 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(15):7240-7259.
Using nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) ChIP-Seq data, we present a framework for iterative learning of regulatory networks. For every possible transcription factor-binding site (TFBS)-putatively regulated gene pair, the relative distance and orientation are calculated to learn which TFBSs are most likely to regulate a given gene. Weighted TFBS contributions to putative gene regulation are integrated to derive an NF-κB gene network. A de novo motif enrichment analysis uncovers secondary TFBSs (AP1, SP1) at characteristic distances from NF-κB/RelA TFBSs. Comparison with experimental ENCODE ChIP-Seq data indicates that experimental TFBSs highly correlate with predicted sites. We observe that RelA-SP1-enriched promoters have distinct expression profiles from that of RelA-AP1 and are enriched in introns, CpG islands and DNase accessible sites. Sixteen novel NF-κB/RelA-regulated genes and TFBSs were experimentally validated, including TANK, a negative feedback gene whose expression is NF-κB/RelA dependent and requires a functional interaction with the AP1 TFBSs. Our probabilistic method yields more accurate NF-κB/RelA-regulated networks than a traditional, distance-based approach, confirmed by both analysis of gene expression and increased informativity of Genome Ontology annotations. Our analysis provides new insights into how co-occurring TFBSs and local chromatin context orchestrate activation of NF-κB/RelA sub-pathways differing in biological function and temporal expression patterns.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt493
PMCID: PMC3753626  PMID: 23771139
13.  Towards biological characters of interactions between transcription factors and their DNA targets in mammals 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:388.
Background
In post-genomic era, the study of transcriptional regulation is pivotal to decode genetic information. Transcription factors (TFs) are central proteins for transcriptional regulation, and interactions between TFs and their DNA targets (TFBSs) are important for downstream genes’ expression. However, the lack of knowledge about interactions between TFs and TFBSs is still baffling people to investigate the mechanism of transcription.
Results
To expand the knowledge about interactions between TFs and TFBSs, three biological features (sequence feature, structure feature, and evolution feature) were utilized to build TFBS identification models for studying binding preference between TFs and their DNA targets in mammals. Results show that each feature does have fairly well performance to capture TFBSs, and the hybrid model combined all three features is more robust for TFBS identification. Subsequently, correspondence between TFs and their TFBSs was investigated to explore interactions among them in mammals. Results indicate that TFs and TFBSs are reciprocal in sequence, structure, and evolution level.
Conclusions
Our work demonstrates that, to some extent, TFs and TFBSs have developed a coevolutionary relationship in order to keep their physical binding and maintain their regulatory functions. In summary, our work will help understand transcriptional regulation and interpret binding mechanism between proteins and DNAs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-388
PMCID: PMC3472306  PMID: 22888987
14.  Site-specific chromatin immunoprecipitation: a selective method to individually analyze neighboring transcription factor binding sites in vivo 
BMC Research Notes  2012;5:109.
Background
Transcription factors (TFs) and their binding sites (TFBSs) play a central role in the regulation of gene expression. It is therefore vital to know how the allocation pattern of TFBSs affects the functioning of any particular gene in vivo. A widely used method to analyze TFBSs in vivo is the chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP). However, this method in its present state does not enable the individual investigation of densely arranged TFBSs due to the underlying unspecific DNA fragmentation technique. This study describes a site-specific ChIP which aggregates the benefits of both EMSA and in vivo footprinting in only one assay, thereby allowing the individual detection and analysis of single binding motifs.
Findings
The standard ChIP protocol was modified by replacing the conventional DNA fragmentation, i. e. via sonication or undirected enzymatic digestion (by MNase), through a sequence specific enzymatic digestion step. This alteration enables the specific immunoprecipitation and individual examination of occupied sites, even in a complex system of adjacent binding motifs in vivo. Immunoprecipitated chromatin was analyzed by PCR using two primer sets - one for the specific detection of precipitated TFBSs and one for the validation of completeness of the enzyme digestion step. The method was established exemplary for Sp1 TFBSs within the egfr promoter region. Using this site-specific ChIP, we were able to confirm four previously described Sp1 binding sites within egfr promoter region to be occupied by Sp1 in vivo. Despite the dense arrangement of the Sp1 TFBSs the improved ChIP method was able to individually examine the allocation of all adjacent Sp1 TFBS at once. The broad applicability of this site-specific ChIP could be demonstrated by analyzing these SP1 motifs in both osteosarcoma cells and kidney carcinoma tissue.
Conclusions
The ChIP technology is a powerful tool for investigating transcription factors in vivo, especially in cancer biology. The established site-specific enzyme digestion enables a reliable and individual detection option for densely arranged binding motifs in vivo not provided by e.g. EMSA or in vivo footprinting. Given the important function of transcription factors in neoplastic mechanism, our method enables a broad diversity of application options for clinical studies.
doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-109
PMCID: PMC3312844  PMID: 22348285
15.  dPORE-miRNA: Polymorphic Regulation of MicroRNA Genes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16657.
Background
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNA molecules that act as post-transcriptional regulators and affect the regulation of protein-coding genes. Mostly transcribed by PolII, miRNA genes are regulated at the transcriptional level similarly to protein-coding genes. In this study we focus on human miRNAs. These miRNAs are involved in a variety of pathways and can affect many diseases. Our interest is on possible deregulation of the transcription initiation of the miRNA encoding genes, which is facilitated by variations in the genomic sequence of transcriptional control regions (promoters).
Methodology
Our aim is to provide an online resource to facilitate the investigation of the potential effects of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on miRNA gene regulation. We analyzed SNPs overlapped with predicted transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in promoters of miRNA genes. We also accounted for the creation of novel TFBSs due to polymorphisms not present in the reference genome. The resulting changes in the original TFBSs and potential creation of new TFBSs were incorporated into the Dragon Database of Polymorphic Regulation of miRNA genes (dPORE-miRNA).
Conclusions
The dPORE-miRNA database enables researchers to explore potential effects of SNPs on the regulation of miRNAs. dPORE-miRNA can be interrogated with regards to: a/miRNAs (their targets, or involvement in diseases, or biological pathways), b/SNPs, or c/transcription factors. dPORE-miRNA can be accessed at http://cbrc.kaust.edu.sa/dpore and http://apps.sanbi.ac.za/dpore/. Its use is free for academic and non-profit users.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016657
PMCID: PMC3033892  PMID: 21326606
16.  The biological function of some human transcription factor binding motifs varies with position relative to the transcription start site 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(8):2777-2786.
A number of previous studies have predicted transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) by exploiting the position of genomic landmarks like the transcriptional start site (TSS). The studies’ methods are generally too computationally intensive for genome-scale investigation, so the full potential of ‘positional regulomics’ to discover TFBSs and determine their function remains unknown. Because databases often annotate the genomic landmarks in DNA sequences, the methodical exploitation of positional regulomics has become increasingly urgent. Accordingly, we examined a set of 7914 human putative promoter regions (PPRs) with a known TSS. Our methods identified 1226 eight-letter DNA words with significant positional preferences with respect to the TSS, of which only 608 of the 1226 words matched known TFBSs. Many groups of genes whose PPRs contained a common word displayed similar expression profiles and related biological functions, however. Most interestingly, our results included 78 words, each of which clustered significantly in two or three different positions relative to the TSS. Often, the gene groups corresponding to different positional clusters of the same word corresponded to diverse functions, e.g. activation or repression in different tissues. Thus, different clusters of the same word likely reflect the phenomenon of ‘positional regulation’, i.e. a word's regulatory function can vary with its position relative to a genomic landmark, a conclusion inaccessible to methods based purely on sequence. Further integrative analysis of words co-occurring in PPRs also yielded 24 different groups of genes, likely identifying cis-regulatory modules de novo. Whereas comparative genomics requires precise sequence alignments, positional regulomics exploits genomic landmarks to provide a ‘poor man's alignment’. By exploiting the phenomenon of positional regulation, it uses position to differentiate the biological functions of subsets of TFBSs sharing a common sequence motif.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkn137
PMCID: PMC2377430  PMID: 18367472
17.  Identification of estrogen responsive genes using esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) as a model 
BMC Systems Biology  2012;6:135.
Background
Estrogen therapy has positively impact the treatment of several cancers, such as prostate, lung and breast cancers. Moreover, several groups have reported the importance of estrogen induced gene regulation in esophageal cancer (EC). This suggests that there could be a potential for estrogen therapy for EC. The efficient design of estrogen therapies requires as complete as possible list of genes responsive to estrogen. Our study develops a systems biology methodology using esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) as a model to identify estrogen responsive genes. These genes, on the other hand, could be affected by estrogen therapy in ESCC.
Results
Based on different sources of information we identified 418 genes implicated in ESCC. Putative estrogen responsive elements (EREs) mapped to the promoter region of the ESCC genes were used to initially identify candidate estrogen responsive genes. EREs mapped to the promoter sequence of 30.62% (128/418) of ESCC genes of which 43.75% (56/128) are known to be estrogen responsive, while 56.25% (72/128) are new candidate estrogen responsive genes. EREs did not map to 290 ESCC genes. Of these 290 genes, 50.34% (146/290) are known to be estrogen responsive. By analyzing transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in the promoters of the 202 (56+146) known estrogen responsive ESCC genes under study, we found that their regulatory potential may be characterized by 44 significantly over-represented co-localized TFBSs (cTFBSs). We were able to map these cTFBSs to promoters of 32 of the 72 new candidate estrogen responsive ESCC genes, thereby increasing confidence that these 32 ESCC genes are responsive to estrogen since their promoters contain both: a/mapped EREs, and b/at least four cTFBSs characteristic of ESCC genes that are responsive to estrogen. Recent publications confirm that 47% (15/32) of these 32 predicted genes are indeed responsive to estrogen.
Conclusion
To the best of our knowledge our study is the first to use a cancer disease model as the framework to identify hormone responsive genes. Although we used ESCC as the disease model and estrogen as the hormone, the methodology can be extended analogously to other diseases as the model and other hormones. We believe that our results provide useful information for those interested in genes responsive to hormones and in the design of hormone-based therapies.
doi:10.1186/1752-0509-6-135
PMCID: PMC3495646  PMID: 23101584
18.  Identification of novel regulatory modules in dicotyledonous plants using expression data and comparative genomics 
Genome Biology  2006;7(11):R103.
A strategy combining classical motif overrepresentation in co-regulated genes with comparative footprinting is applied to identify 80 transcription factor binding sites and 139 regulatory modules in Arabidopsis thaliana.
Background
Transcriptional regulation plays an important role in the control of many biological processes. Transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) are the functional elements that determine transcriptional activity and are organized into separable cis-regulatory modules, each defining the cooperation of several transcription factors required for a specific spatio-temporal expression pattern. Consequently, the discovery of novel TFBSs in promoter sequences is an important step to improve our understanding of gene regulation.
Results
Here, we applied a detection strategy that combines features of classic motif overrepresentation approaches in co-regulated genes with general comparative footprinting principles for the identification of biologically relevant regulatory elements and modules in Arabidopsis thaliana, a model system for plant biology. In total, we identified 80 TFBSs and 139 regulatory modules, most of which are novel, and primarily consist of two or three regulatory elements that could be linked to different important biological processes, such as protein biosynthesis, cell cycle control, photosynthesis and embryonic development. Moreover, studying the physical properties of some specific regulatory modules revealed that Arabidopsis promoters have a compact nature, with cooperative TFBSs located in close proximity of each other.
Conclusion
These results create a starting point to unravel regulatory networks in plants and to study the regulation of biological processes from a systems biology point of view.
doi:10.1186/gb-2006-7-11-r103
PMCID: PMC1794593  PMID: 17090307
19.  MAPPER: a search engine for the computational identification of putative transcription factor binding sites in multiple genomes 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:79.
Background
Cis-regulatory modules are combinations of regulatory elements occurring in close proximity to each other that control the spatial and temporal expression of genes. The ability to identify them in a genome-wide manner depends on the availability of accurate models and of search methods able to detect putative regulatory elements with enhanced sensitivity and specificity.
Results
We describe the implementation of a search method for putative transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) based on hidden Markov models built from alignments of known sites. We built 1,079 models of TFBSs using experimentally determined sequence alignments of sites provided by the TRANSFAC and JASPAR databases and used them to scan sequences of the human, mouse, fly, worm and yeast genomes. In several cases tested the method identified correctly experimentally characterized sites, with better specificity and sensitivity than other similar computational methods. Moreover, a large-scale comparison using synthetic data showed that in the majority of cases our method performed significantly better than a nucleotide weight matrix-based method.
Conclusion
The search engine, available at , allows the identification, visualization and selection of putative TFBSs occurring in the promoter or other regions of a gene from the human, mouse, fly, worm and yeast genomes. In addition it allows the user to upload a sequence to query and to build a model by supplying a multiple sequence alignment of binding sites for a transcription factor of interest. Due to its extensive database of models, powerful search engine and flexible interface, MAPPER represents an effective resource for the large-scale computational analysis of transcriptional regulation.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-79
PMCID: PMC1131891  PMID: 15799782
20.  TTS Mapping: integrative WEB tool for analysis of triplex formation target DNA Sequences, G-quadruplets and non-protein coding regulatory DNA elements in the human genome 
BMC Genomics  2009;10(Suppl 3):S9.
Background
DNA triplexes can naturally occur, co-localize and interact with many other regulatory DNA elements (e.g. G-quadruplex (G4) DNA motifs), specific DNA-binding proteins (e.g. transcription factors (TFs)), and micro-RNA (miRNA) precursors. Specific genome localizations of triplex target DNA sites (TTSs) may cause abnormalities in a double-helix DNA structure and can be directly involved in some human diseases. However, genome localization of specific TTSs, their interconnection with regulatory DNA elements and physiological roles in a cell are poor defined. Therefore, it is important to identify comprehensive and reliable catalogue of specific potential TTSs (pTTSs) and their co-localization patterns with other regulatory DNA elements in the human genome.
Results
"TTS mapping" database is a web-based search engine developed here, which is aimed to find and annotate pTTSs within a region of interest of the human genome. The engine provides descriptive statistics of pTTSs in a given region and its sequence context. Different annotation tracks of TTS-overlapping gene region(s), G4 motifs, CpG Island, miRNA precursors, miRNA targets, transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNA), and repeat elements are also mapped based onto a sequence location provided by UCSC genome browser, G4 database http://www.quadruplex.org and several other datasets. The results pages provide links to UCSC genome browser annotation tracks and relative DBs. BLASTN program was included to check the uniqueness of a given pTTS in the human genome. Recombination- and mutation-prone genes (e.g. EVI-1, MYC) were found to be significantly enriched by TTSs and multiple co-occurring with our regulatory DNA elements. TTS mapping reveals that a high-complementary and evolutionarily conserved polypurine and polypyrimidine DNA sequence pair linked by a non-conserved short DNA sequence can form miR-483 transcribed from intron 2 of IGF2 gene and bound double-strand nucleic acid TTSs forming natural triplex structures.
Conclusion
TTS mapping provides comprehensive visual and analytical tools to help users to find pTTSs, G-quadruplets and other regulatory DNA elements in various genome regions. TTS Mapping not only provides sequence visualization and statistical information, but also integrates knowledge about co-localization TTS with various DNA elements and facilitates that data analysis. In particular, TTS Mapping reveals complex structural-functional regulatory module of gene IGF2 including TF MZF1 binding site and ncRNA precursor mir-483 formed by the high-complementary and evolutionarily conserved polypurine- and polypyrimidine-rich DNA pair. Such ncRNAs capable of forming helical triplex structures with a polypurine strand of a nucleic acid duplexes (DNA or RNA) via Hoogsteen or reverse Hoogsteen hydrogen bonds. Our web tool could be used to discover biologically meaningful genome modules and to optimize experimental design of anti-gene treatment.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-S3-S9
PMCID: PMC2788396  PMID: 19958507
21.  Frequent Gain and Loss of Functional Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(5):e99.
Cis-regulatory sequences are not always conserved across species. Divergence within cis-regulatory sequences may result from the evolution of species-specific patterns of gene expression or the flexible nature of the cis-regulatory code. The identification of functional divergence in cis-regulatory sequences is therefore important for both understanding the role of gene regulation in evolution and annotating regulatory elements. We have developed an evolutionary model to detect the loss of constraint on individual transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs). We find that a significant fraction of functionally constrained binding sites have been lost in a lineage-specific manner among three closely related yeast species. Binding site loss has previously been explained by turnover, where the concurrent gain and loss of a binding site maintains gene regulation. We estimate that nearly half of all loss events cannot be explained by binding site turnover. Recreating the mutations that led to binding site loss confirms that these sequence changes affect gene expression in some cases. We also estimate that there is a high rate of binding site gain, as more than half of experimentally identified S. cerevisiae binding sites are not conserved across species. The frequent gain and loss of TFBSs implies that cis-regulatory sequences are labile and, in the absence of turnover, may contribute to species-specific patterns of gene expression.
Author Summary
Research in the field of molecular evolution is focused on understanding the genetic basis of functional differences between species. Protein coding sequences have traditionally been the focus of these studies, as the genetic code enables a detailed study of the strength of selection acting on amino acid sequences. However, from the earliest cross-species sequence comparisons, it was clear that protein sequences among closely related species are too similar to explain the observed phenotypic diversity. This led to the hypothesis that the evolution of gene regulation has played a key role in generating diversity between species. The availability of numerous complete genome sequences has made it possible to begin testing this hypothesis. In this work, the authors use an evolutionary model to identify functional divergence within transcription factor binding sites, the core functional elements involved in gene regulation. Applying this model to the baker's yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and its three closest relatives, the authors find that a substantial fraction of the ancestral binding sites have been lost in a species-specific manner. In some cases the loss of the binding site creates gene expression differences that may be indicative of species-specific changes in gene regulation. This work provides a useful computational framework that will allow further study of the conservation of cis-regulatory sequences and their role in molecular evolution.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030099
PMCID: PMC1876492  PMID: 17530920
22.  Comparative Genomics of Neuroglobin Reveals Its Early Origins 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47972.
Background
Neuroglobin (Ngb) is a hexacoordinated globin expressed mainly in the central and peripheral nervous system of vertebrates. Although several hypotheses have been put forward regarding the role of neuroglobin, its definite function remains uncertain. Ngb appears to have a neuro-protective role enhancing cell viability under hypoxia and other types of oxidative stress. Ngb is phylogenetically ancient and has a substitution rate nearly four times lower than that of other vertebrate globins, e.g. hemoglobin. Despite its high sequence conservation among vertebrates Ngb seems to be elusive in invertebrates.
Principal Findings
We determined candidate orthologs in invertebrates and identified a globin of the placozoan Trichoplax adhaerens that is most likely orthologous to vertebrate Ngb and confirmed the orthologous relationship of the polymeric globin of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus to Ngb. The putative orthologous globin genes are located next to genes orthologous to vertebrate POMT2 similarly to localization of vertebrate Ngb. The shared syntenic position of the globins from Trichoplax, the sea urchin and of vertebrate Ngb strongly suggests that they are orthologous. A search for conserved transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in the promoter regions of the Ngb genes of different vertebrates via phylogenetic footprinting revealed several TFBSs, which may contribute to the specific expression of Ngb, whereas a comparative analysis with myoglobin revealed several common TFBSs, suggestive of regulatory mechanisms common to globin genes.
Significance
Identification of the placozoan and echinoderm genes orthologous to vertebrate neuroglobin strongly supports the hypothesis of the early evolutionary origin of this globin, as it shows that neuroglobin was already present in the placozoan-bilaterian last common ancestor. Computational determination of the transcription factor binding sites repertoire provides on the one hand a set of transcriptional factors that are responsible for the specific expression of the Ngb genes and on the other hand a set of factors potentially controlling expression of a couple of different globin genes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047972
PMCID: PMC3485006  PMID: 23133533
23.  Prediction and Experimental Validation of Novel STAT3 Target Genes in Human Cancer Cells 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e6911.
The comprehensive identification of functional transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is an important step in understanding complex transcriptional regulatory networks. This study presents a motif-based comparative approach, STAT-Finder, for identifying functional DNA binding sites of STAT3 transcription factor. STAT-Finder combines STAT-Scanner, which was designed to predict functional STAT TFBSs with improved sensitivity, and a motif-based alignment to minimize false positive prediction rates. Using two reference sets containing promoter sequences of known STAT3 target genes, STAT-Finder identified functional STAT3 TFBSs with enhanced prediction efficiency and sensitivity relative to other conventional TFBS prediction tools. In addition, STAT-Finder identified novel STAT3 target genes among a group of genes that are over-expressed in human cancer cells. The binding of STAT3 to the predicted TFBSs was also experimentally confirmed through chromatin immunoprecipitation. Our proposed method provides a systematic approach to the prediction of functional TFBSs that can be applied to other TFs.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006911
PMCID: PMC2731854  PMID: 19730699
24.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052460
PMCID: PMC3540023  PMID: 23320072
25.  AtPAN: an integrated system for reconstructing transcriptional regulatory networks in Arabidopsis thaliana 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:85.
Background
Construction of transcriptional regulatory networks (TRNs) is of priority concern in systems biology. Numerous high-throughput approaches, including microarray and next-generation sequencing, are extensively adopted to examine transcriptional expression patterns on the whole-genome scale; those data are helpful in reconstructing TRNs. Identifying transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in a gene promoter is the initial step in elucidating the transcriptional regulation mechanism. Since transcription factors usually co-regulate a common group of genes by forming regulatory modules with similar TFBSs. Therefore, the combinatorial interactions of transcription factors must be modeled to reconstruct the gene regulatory networks.
Description For systems biology applications, this work develops a novel database called Arabidopsis thaliana Promoter Analysis Net (AtPAN), capable of detecting TFBSs and their corresponding transcription factors (TFs) in a promoter or a set of promoters in Arabidopsis. For further analysis, according to the microarray expression data and literature, the co-expressed TFs and their target genes can be retrieved from AtPAN. Additionally, proteins interacting with the co-expressed TFs are also incorporated to reconstruct co-expressed TRNs. Moreover, combinatorial TFs can be detected by the frequency of TFBSs co-occurrence in a group of gene promoters. In addition, TFBSs in the conserved regions between the two input sequences or homologous genes in Arabidopsis and rice are also provided in AtPAN. The output results also suggest conducting wet experiments in the future.
Conclusions
The AtPAN, which has a user-friendly input/output interface and provide graphical view of the TRNs. This novel and creative resource is freely available online at http://AtPAN.itps.ncku.edu.tw/.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-85
PMCID: PMC3314555  PMID: 22397531

Results 1-25 (1398974)