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1.  Jaccard index based similarity measure to compare transcription factor binding site models 
Positional weight matrix (PWM) remains the most popular for quantification of transcription factor (TF) binding. PWM supplied with a score threshold defines a set of putative transcription factor binding sites (TFBS), thus providing a TFBS model.
TF binding DNA fragments obtained by different experimental methods usually give similar but not identical PWMs. This is also common for different TFs from the same structural family. Thus it is often necessary to measure the similarity between PWMs. The popular tools compare PWMs directly using matrix elements. Yet, for log-odds PWMs, negative elements do not contribute to the scores of highly scoring TFBS and thus may be different without affecting the sets of the best recognized binding sites. Moreover, the two TFBS sets recognized by a given pair of PWMs can be more or less different depending on the score thresholds.
We propose a practical approach for comparing two TFBS models, each consisting of a PWM and the respective scoring threshold. The proposed measure is a variant of the Jaccard index between two TFBS sets. The measure defines a metric space for TFBS models of all finite lengths. The algorithm can compare TFBS models constructed using substantially different approaches, like PWMs with raw positional counts and log-odds. We present the efficient software implementation: MACRO-APE (MAtrix CompaRisOn by Approximate P-value Estimation).
MACRO-APE can be effectively used to compute the Jaccard index based similarity for two TFBS models. A two-pass scanning algorithm is presented to scan a given collection of PWMs for PWMs similar to a given query.
Availability and implementation
MACRO-APE is implemented in ruby 1.9; software including source code and a manual is freely available at and in supplementary materials.
PMCID: PMC3851813  PMID: 24074225
Transcription factor binding site; TFBS; Transcription factor binding site model; Binding motif; Jaccard similarity; Position weight matrix; PWM; P-value; Position specific frequency matrix; PSFM; Macroape
2.  Optimizing the GATA-3 position weight matrix to improve the identification of novel binding sites 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:416.
The identifying of binding sites for transcription factors is a key component of gene regulatory network analysis. This is often done using position-weight matrices (PWMs). Because of the importance of in silico mapping of tentative binding sites, we previously developed an approach for PWM optimization that substantially improves the accuracy of such mapping.
The present work implements the optimization algorithm applied to the existing PWM for GATA-3 transcription factor and builds a new di-nucleotide PWM. The existing available PWM is based on experimental data adopted from Jaspar. The optimized PWM substantially improves the sensitivity and specificity of the TF mapping compared to the conventional applications. The refined PWM also facilitates in silico identification of novel binding sites that are supported by experimental data. We also describe uncommon positioning of binding motifs for several T-cell lineage specific factors in human promoters.
Our proposed di-nucleotide PWM approach outperforms the conventional mono-nucleotide PWM approach with respect to GATA-3. Therefore our new di-nucleotide PWM provides new insight into plausible transcriptional regulatory interactions in human promoters.
PMCID: PMC3481455  PMID: 22913572
Transcription factor; Binding sites; GATA-3; Human promoter; Position weight matrix; Optimization
3.  Assessment of clusters of transcription factor binding sites in relationship to human promoter, CpG islands and gene expression 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:16.
Gene expression is regulated mainly by transcription factors (TFs) that interact with regulatory cis-elements on DNA sequences. To identify functional regulatory elements, computer searching can predict TF binding sites (TFBS) using position weight matrices (PWMs) that represent positional base frequencies of collected experimentally determined TFBS. A disadvantage of this approach is the large output of results for genomic DNA. One strategy to identify genuine TFBS is to utilize local concentrations of predicted TFBS. It is unclear whether there is a general tendency for TFBS to cluster at promoter regions, although this is the case for certain TFBS. Also unclear is the identification of TFs that have TFBS concentrated in promoters and to what level this occurs. This study hopes to answer some of these questions.
We developed the cluster score measure to evaluate the correlation between predicted TFBS clusters and promoter sequences for each PWM. Non-promoter sequences were used as a control. Using the cluster score, we identified a PWM group called PWM-PCP, in which TFBS clusters positively correlate with promoters, and another PWM group called PWM-NCP, in which TFBS clusters negatively correlate with promoters. The PWM-PCP group comprises 47% of the 199 vertebrate PWMs, while the PWM-NCP group occupied 11 percent. After reducing the effect of CpG islands (CGI) against the clusters using partial correlation coefficients among three properties (promoter, CGI and predicted TFBS cluster), we identified two PWM groups including those strongly correlated with CGI and those not correlated with CGI.
Not all PWMs predict TFBS correlated with human promoter sequences. Two main PWM groups were identified: (1) those that show TFBS clustered in promoters associated with CGI, and (2) those that show TFBS clustered in promoters independent of CGI. Assessment of PWM matches will allow more positive interpretation of TFBS in regulatory regions.
PMCID: PMC375527  PMID: 15053842
promoter; tissue-specific gene expression; position weight matrix; regulatory motif
4.  Position Weight Matrix, Gibbs Sampler, and the Associated Significance Tests in Motif Characterization and Prediction 
Scientifica  2012;2012:917540.
Position weight matrix (PWM) is not only one of the most widely used bioinformatic methods, but also a key component in more advanced computational algorithms (e.g., Gibbs sampler) for characterizing and discovering motifs in nucleotide or amino acid sequences. However, few generally applicable statistical tests are available for evaluating the significance of site patterns, PWM, and PWM scores (PWMS) of putative motifs. Statistical significance tests of the PWM output, that is, site-specific frequencies, PWM itself, and PWMS, are in disparate sources and have never been collected in a single paper, with the consequence that many implementations of PWM do not include any significance test. Here I review PWM-based methods used in motif characterization and prediction (including a detailed illustration of the Gibbs sampler for de novo motif discovery), present statistical and probabilistic rationales behind statistical significance tests relevant to PWM, and illustrate their application with real data. The multiple comparison problem associated with the test of site-specific frequencies is best handled by false discovery rate methods. The test of PWM, due to the use of pseudocounts, is best done by resampling methods. The test of individual PWMS for each sequence segment should be based on the extreme value distribution.
PMCID: PMC3820676  PMID: 24278755
5.  Dinucleotide Weight Matrices for Predicting Transcription Factor Binding Sites: Generalizing the Position Weight Matrix 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9722.
Identifying transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) in silico is key in understanding gene regulation. TFBS are string patterns that exhibit some variability, commonly modelled as “position weight matrices” (PWMs). Though convenient, the PWM has significant limitations, in particular the assumed independence of positions within the binding motif; and predictions based on PWMs are usually not very specific to known functional sites. Analysis here on binding sites in yeast suggests that correlation of dinucleotides is not limited to near-neighbours, but can extend over considerable gaps.
Methodology/Principal Findings
I describe a straightforward generalization of the PWM model, that considers frequencies of dinucleotides instead of individual nucleotides. Unlike previous efforts, this method considers all dinucleotides within an extended binding region, and does not make an attempt to determine a priori the significance of particular dinucleotide correlations. I describe how to use a “dinucleotide weight matrix” (DWM) to predict binding sites, dealing in particular with the complication that its entries are not independent probabilities. Benchmarks show, for many factors, a dramatic improvement over PWMs in precision of predicting known targets. In most cases, significant further improvement arises by extending the commonly defined “core motifs” by about 10bp on either side. Though this flanking sequence shows no strong motif at the nucleotide level, the predictive power of the dinucleotide model suggests that the “signature” in DNA sequence of protein-binding affinity extends beyond the core protein-DNA contact region.
While computationally more demanding and slower than PWM-based approaches, this dinucleotide method is straightforward, both conceptually and in implementation, and can serve as a basis for future improvements.
PMCID: PMC2842295  PMID: 20339533
6.  Identification of co-occurring transcription factor binding sites from DNA sequence using clustered position weight matrices 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(5):e38.
Accurate prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is a prerequisite for identifying cis-regulatory modules that underlie transcriptional regulatory circuits encoded in the genome. Here, we present a computational framework for detecting TFBSs, when multiple position weight matrices (PWMs) for a transcription factor are available. Grouping multiple PWMs of a transcription factor (TF) based on their sequence similarity improves the specificity of TFBS prediction, which was evaluated using multiple genome-wide ChIP-Seq data sets from 26 TFs. The Z-scores of the area under a receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) values of 368 TFs were calculated and used to statistically identify co-occurring regulatory motifs in the TF bound ChIP loci. Motifs that are co-occurring along with the empirical bindings of E2F, JUN or MYC have been evaluated, in the basal or stimulated condition. Results prove our method can be useful to systematically identify the co-occurring motifs of the TF for the given conditions.
PMCID: PMC3300004  PMID: 22187154
7.  Optimized Position Weight Matrices in Prediction of Novel Putative Binding Sites for Transcription Factors in the Drosophila melanogaster Genome 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e68712.
Position weight matrices (PWMs) have become a tool of choice for the identification of transcription factor binding sites in DNA sequences. DNA-binding proteins often show degeneracy in their binding requirement and thus the overall binding specificity of many proteins is unknown and remains an active area of research. Although existing PWMs are more reliable predictors than consensus string matching, they generally result in a high number of false positive hits. Our previous study introduced a promising approach to PWM refinement in which known motifs are used to computationally mine putative binding sites directly from aligned promoter regions using composition of similar sites. In the present study, we extended this technique originally tested on single examples of transcription factors (TFs) and showed its capability to optimize PWM performance to predict new binding sites in the fruit fly genome. We propose refined PWMs in mono- and dinucleotide versions similarly computed for a large variety of transcription factors of Drosophila melanogaster. Along with the addition of many auxiliary sites the optimization includes variation of the PWM motif length, the binding sites location on the promoters and the PWM score threshold. To assess the predictive performance of the refined PWMs we compared them to conventional TRANSFAC and JASPAR sources. The results have been verified using performed tests and literature review. Overall, the refined PWMs containing putative sites derived from real promoter content processed using optimized parameters had better general accuracy than conventional PWMs.
PMCID: PMC3735551  PMID: 23936309
8.  The XXmotif web server for eXhaustive, weight matriX-based motif discovery in nucleotide sequences 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W104-W109.
The discovery of regulatory motifs enriched in sets of DNA or RNA sequences is fundamental to the analysis of a great variety of functional genomics experiments. These motifs usually represent binding sites of proteins or non-coding RNAs, which are best described by position weight matrices (PWMs). We have recently developed XXmotif, a de novo motif discovery method that is able to directly optimize the statistical significance of PWMs. XXmotif can also score conservation and positional clustering of motifs. The XXmotif server provides (i) a list of significantly overrepresented motif PWMs with web logos and E-values; (ii) a graph with color-coded boxes indicating the positions of selected motifs in the input sequences; (iii) a histogram of the overall positional distribution for selected motifs and (iv) a page for each motif with all significant motif occurrences, their P-values for enrichment, conservation and localization, their sequence contexts and coordinates. Free access:
PMCID: PMC3394272  PMID: 22693218
9.  3DTF: a web server for predicting transcription factor PWMs using 3D structure-based energy calculations 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W180-W185.
We present the webserver 3D transcription factor (3DTF) to compute position-specific weight matrices (PWMs) of transcription factors using a knowledge-based statistical potential derived from crystallographic data on protein–DNA complexes. Analysis of available structures that can be used to construct PWMs shows that there are hundreds of 3D structures from which PWMs could be derived, as well as thousands of proteins homologous to these. Therefore, we created 3DTF, which delivers binding matrices given the experimental or modeled protein–DNA complex. The webserver can be used by biologists to derive novel PWMs for transcription factors lacking known binding sites and is freely accessible at
PMCID: PMC3394331  PMID: 22693215
10.  DBD2BS: connecting a DNA-binding protein with its binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W173-W179.
By binding to short and highly conserved DNA sequences in genomes, DNA-binding proteins initiate, enhance or repress biological processes. Accurately identifying such binding sites, often represented by position weight matrices (PWMs), is an important step in understanding the control mechanisms of cells. When given coordinates of a DNA-binding domain (DBD) bound with DNA, a potential function can be used to estimate the change of binding affinity after base substitutions, where the changes can be summarized as a PWM. This technique provides an effective alternative when the chromatin immunoprecipitation data are unavailable for PWM inference. To facilitate the procedure of predicting PWMs based on protein–DNA complexes or even structures of the unbound state, the web server, DBD2BS, is presented in this study. The DBD2BS uses an atom-level knowledge-based potential function to predict PWMs characterizing the sequences to which the query DBD structure can bind. For unbound queries, a list of 1066 DBD–DNA complexes (including 1813 protein chains) is compiled for use as templates for synthesizing bound structures. The DBD2BS provides users with an easy-to-use interface for visualizing the PWMs predicted based on different templates and the spatial relationships of the query protein, the DBDs and the DNAs. The DBD2BS is the first attempt to predict PWMs of DBDs from unbound structures rather than from bound ones. This approach increases the number of existing protein structures that can be exploited when analyzing protein–DNA interactions. In a recent study, the authors showed that the kernel adopted by the DBD2BS can generate PWMs consistent with those obtained from the experimental data. The use of DBD2BS to predict PWMs can be incorporated with sequence-based methods to discover binding sites in genome-wide studies.
Available at:,, and
PMCID: PMC3394304  PMID: 22693214
11.  Tree-Based Position Weight Matrix Approach to Model Transcription Factor Binding Site Profiles 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24210.
Most of the position weight matrix (PWM) based bioinformatics methods developed to predict transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) assume each nucleotide in the sequence motif contributes independently to the interaction between protein and DNA sequence, usually producing high false positive predictions. The increasing availability of TF enrichment profiles from recent ChIP-Seq methodology facilitates the investigation of dependent structure and accurate prediction of TFBSs. We develop a novel Tree-based PWM (TPWM) approach to accurately model the interaction between TF and its binding site. The whole tree-structured PWM could be considered as a mixture of different conditional-PWMs. We propose a discriminative approach, called TPD (TPWM based Discriminative Approach), to construct the TPWM from the ChIP-Seq data with a pre-existing PWM. To achieve the maximum discriminative power between the positive and negative datasets, the cutoff value is determined based on the Matthew Correlation Coefficient (MCC). The resulting TPWMs are evaluated with respect to accuracy on extensive synthetic datasets. We then apply our TPWM discriminative approach on several real ChIP-Seq datasets to refine the current TFBS models stored in the TRANSFAC database. Experiments on both the simulated and real ChIP-Seq data show that the proposed method starting from existing PWM has consistently better performance than existing tools in detecting the TFBSs. The improved accuracy is the result of modelling the complete dependent structure of the motifs and better prediction of true positive rate. The findings could lead to better understanding of the mechanisms of TF-DNA interactions.
PMCID: PMC3166302  PMID: 21912677
12.  A Structural-Based Strategy for Recognition of Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52460.
Scanning through genomes for potential transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is becoming increasingly important in this post-genomic era. The position weight matrix (PWM) is the standard representation of TFBSs utilized when scanning through sequences for potential binding sites. However, many transcription factor (TF) motifs are short and highly degenerate, and methods utilizing PWMs to scan for sites are plagued by false positives. Furthermore, many important TFs do not have well-characterized PWMs, making identification of potential binding sites even more difficult. One approach to the identification of sites for these TFs has been to use the 3D structure of the TF to predict the DNA structure around the TF and then to generate a PWM from the predicted 3D complex structure. However, this approach is dependent on the similarity of the predicted structure to the native structure. We introduce here a novel approach to identify TFBSs utilizing structure information that can be applied to TFs without characterized PWMs, as long as a 3D complex structure (TF/DNA) exists. This approach utilizes an energy function that is uniquely trained on each structure. Our approach leads to increased prediction accuracy and robustness compared with those using a more general energy function. The software is freely available upon request.
PMCID: PMC3540023  PMID: 23320072
13.  Computational technique for improvement of the position-weight matrices for the DNA/protein binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(7):2290-2301.
Position-weight matrices (PWMs) are broadly used to locate transcription factor binding sites in DNA sequences. The majority of existing PWMs provide a low level of both sensitivity and specificity. We present a new computational algorithm, a modification of the Staden–Bucher approach, that improves the PWM. We applied the proposed technique on the PWM of the GC-box, binding site for Sp1. The comparison of old and new PWMs shows that the latter increase both sensitivity and specificity. The statistical parameters of GC-box distribution in promoter regions and in the human genome, as well as in each chromosome, are presented. The majority of commonly used PWMs are the 4-row mononucleotide matrices, although 16-row dinucleotide matrices are known to be more informative. The algorithm efficiently determines the 16-row matrices and preliminary results show that such matrices provide better results than 4-row matrices.
PMCID: PMC1084321  PMID: 15849315
14.  The Next Generation of Transcription Factor Binding Site Prediction 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(9):e1003214.
Finding where transcription factors (TFs) bind to the DNA is of key importance to decipher gene regulation at a transcriptional level. Classically, computational prediction of TF binding sites (TFBSs) is based on basic position weight matrices (PWMs) which quantitatively score binding motifs based on the observed nucleotide patterns in a set of TFBSs for the corresponding TF. Such models make the strong assumption that each nucleotide participates independently in the corresponding DNA-protein interaction and do not account for flexible length motifs. We introduce transcription factor flexible models (TFFMs) to represent TF binding properties. Based on hidden Markov models, TFFMs are flexible, and can model both position interdependence within TFBSs and variable length motifs within a single dedicated framework. The availability of thousands of experimentally validated DNA-TF interaction sequences from ChIP-seq allows for the generation of models that perform as well as PWMs for stereotypical TFs and can improve performance for TFs with flexible binding characteristics. We present a new graphical representation of the motifs that convey properties of position interdependence. TFFMs have been assessed on ChIP-seq data sets coming from the ENCODE project, revealing that they can perform better than both PWMs and the dinucleotide weight matrix extension in discriminating ChIP-seq from background sequences. Under the assumption that ChIP-seq signal values are correlated with the affinity of the TF-DNA binding, we find that TFFM scores correlate with ChIP-seq peak signals. Moreover, using available TF-DNA affinity measurements for the Max TF, we demonstrate that TFFMs constructed from ChIP-seq data correlate with published experimentally measured DNA-binding affinities. Finally, TFFMs allow for the straightforward computation of an integrated TF occupancy score across a sequence. These results demonstrate the capacity of TFFMs to accurately model DNA-protein interactions, while providing a single unified framework suitable for the next generation of TFBS prediction.
Author Summary
Transcription factors are critical proteins for sequence-specific control of transcriptional regulation. Finding where these proteins bind to DNA is of key importance for global efforts to decipher the complex mechanisms of gene regulation. Greater understanding of the regulation of transcription promises to improve human genetic analysis by specifying critical gene components that have eluded investigators. Classically, computational prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) is based on models giving weights to each nucleotide at each position. We introduce a novel statistical model for the prediction of TFBS tolerant of a broader range of TFBS configurations than can be conveniently accommodated by existing methods. The new models are designed to address the confounding properties of nucleotide composition, inter-positional sequence dependence and variable lengths (e.g. variable spacing between half-sites) observed in the more comprehensive experimental data now emerging. The new models generate scores consistent with DNA-protein affinities measured experimentally and can be represented graphically, retaining desirable attributes of past methods. It demonstrates the capacity of the new approach to accurately assess DNA-protein interactions. With the rich experimental data generated from chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, a greater diversity of TFBS properties has emerged that can now be accommodated within a single predictive approach.
PMCID: PMC3764009  PMID: 24039567
15.  Measuring similarities between transcription factor binding sites 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:237.
Collections of transcription factor binding profiles (Transfac, Jaspar) are essential to identify regulatory elements in DNA sequences. Subsets of highly similar profiles complicate large scale analysis of transcription factor binding sites.
We propose to identify and group similar profiles using two independent similarity measures: χ2 distances between position frequency matrices (PFMs) and correlation coefficients between position weight matrices (PWMs) scores.
We show that these measures complement each other and allow to associate Jaspar and Transfac matrices. Clusters of highly similar matrices are identified and can be used to optimise the search for regulatory elements. Moreover, the application of the measures is illustrated by assigning E-box matrices of a SELEX experiment and of experimentally characterised binding sites of circadian clock genes to the Myc-Max cluster.
PMCID: PMC1261160  PMID: 16191190
16.  MYBS: a comprehensive web server for mining transcription factor binding sites in yeast 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(Web Server issue):W221-W226.
Correct interactions between transcription factors (TFs) and their binding sites (TFBSs) are of central importance to gene regulation. Recently developed chromatin-immunoprecipitation DNA chip (ChIP-chip) techniques and the phylogenetic footprinting method provide ways to identify TFBSs with high precision. In this study, we constructed a user-friendly interactive platform for dynamic binding site mapping using ChIP-chip data and phylogenetic footprinting as two filters. MYBS (Mining Yeast Binding Sites) is a comprehensive web server that integrates an array of both experimentally verified and predicted position weight matrixes (PWMs) from eleven databases, including 481 binding motif consensus sequences and 71 PWMs that correspond to 183 TFs. MYBS users can search within this platform for motif occurrences (possible binding sites) in the promoters of genes of interest via simple motif or gene queries in conjunction with the above two filters. In addition, MYBS enables users to visualize in parallel the potential regulators for a given set of genes, a feature useful for finding potential regulatory associations between TFs. MYBS also allows users to identify target gene sets of each TF pair, which could be used as a starting point for further explorations of TF combinatorial regulation. MYBS is available at
PMCID: PMC1933147  PMID: 17537814
17.  Uncovering transcriptional interactions via an adaptive fuzzy logic approach 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:400.
To date, only a limited number of transcriptional regulatory interactions have been uncovered. In a pilot study integrating sequence data with microarray data, a position weight matrix (PWM) performed poorly in inferring transcriptional interactions (TIs), which represent physical interactions between transcription factors (TF) and upstream sequences of target genes. Inferring a TI means that the promoter sequence of a target is inferred to match the consensus sequence motifs of a potential TF, and their interaction type such as AT or RT is also predicted. Thus, a robust PWM (rPWM) was developed to search for consensus sequence motifs. In addition to rPWM, one feature extracted from ChIP-chip data was incorporated to identify potential TIs under specific conditions. An interaction type classifier was assembled to predict activation/repression of potential TIs using microarray data. This approach, combining an adaptive (learning) fuzzy inference system and an interaction type classifier to predict transcriptional regulatory networks, was named AdaFuzzy.
AdaFuzzy was applied to predict TIs using real genomics data from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Following one of the latest advances in predicting TIs, constrained probabilistic sparse matrix factorization (cPSMF), and using 19 transcription factors (TFs), we compared AdaFuzzy to four well-known approaches using over-representation analysis and gene set enrichment analysis. AdaFuzzy outperformed these four algorithms. Furthermore, AdaFuzzy was shown to perform comparably to 'ChIP-experimental method' in inferring TIs identified by two sets of large scale ChIP-chip data, respectively. AdaFuzzy was also able to classify all predicted TIs into one or more of the four promoter architectures. The results coincided with known promoter architectures in yeast and provided insights into transcriptional regulatory mechanisms.
AdaFuzzy successfully integrates multiple types of data (sequence, ChIP, and microarray) to predict transcriptional regulatory networks. The validated success in the prediction results implies that AdaFuzzy can be applied to uncover TIs in yeast.
PMCID: PMC2797023  PMID: 19961622
18.  AthaMap-assisted transcription factor target gene identification in Arabidopsis thaliana 
The AthaMap database generates a map of potential transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) and small RNA target sites in the Arabidopsis thaliana genome. The database contains sites for 115 different transcription factors (TFs). TFBS were identified with positional weight matrices (PWMs) or with single binding sites. With the new web tool ‘Gene Identification’, it is possible to identify potential target genes for selected TFs. For these analyses, the user can define a region of interest of up to 6000 bp in all annotated genes. For TFBS determined with PWMs, the search can be restricted to high-quality TFBS. The results are displayed in tables that identify the gene, position of the TFBS and, if applicable, individual score of the TFBS. In addition, data files can be downloaded that harbour positional information of TFBS of all TFs in a region between −2000 and +2000 bp relative to the transcription or translation start site. Also, data content of AthaMap was increased and the database was updated to the TAIR8 genome release.
Database URL:
PMCID: PMC3011983  PMID: 21177332
19.  PiDNA: predicting protein–DNA interactions with structural models 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(Web Server issue):W523-W530.
Predicting binding sites of a transcription factor in the genome is an important, but challenging, issue in studying gene regulation. In the past decade, a large number of protein–DNA co-crystallized structures available in the Protein Data Bank have facilitated the understanding of interacting mechanisms between transcription factors and their binding sites. Recent studies have shown that both physics-based and knowledge-based potential functions can be applied to protein–DNA complex structures to deliver position weight matrices (PWMs) that are consistent with the experimental data. To further use the available structural models, the proposed Web server, PiDNA, aims at first constructing reliable PWMs by applying an atomic-level knowledge-based scoring function on numerous in silico mutated complex structures, and then using the PWM constructed by the structure models with small energy changes to predict the interaction between proteins and DNA sequences. With PiDNA, the users can easily predict the relative preference of all the DNA sequences with limited mutations from the native sequence co-crystallized in the model in a single run. More predictions on sequences with unlimited mutations can be realized by additional requests or file uploading. Three types of information can be downloaded after prediction: (i) the ranked list of mutated sequences, (ii) the PWM constructed by the favourable mutated structures, and (iii) any mutated protein–DNA complex structure models specified by the user. This study first shows that the constructed PWMs are similar to the annotated PWMs collected from databases or literature. Second, the prediction accuracy of PiDNA in detecting relatively high-specificity sites is evaluated by comparing the ranked lists against in vitro experiments from protein-binding microarrays. Finally, PiDNA is shown to be able to select the experimentally validated binding sites from 10 000 random sites with high accuracy. With PiDNA, the users can design biological experiments based on the predicted sequence specificity and/or request mutated structure models for further protein design. As well, it is expected that PiDNA can be incorporated with chromatin immunoprecipitation data to refine large-scale inference of in vivo protein–DNA interactions. PiDNA is available at:
PMCID: PMC3692134  PMID: 23703214
20.  A General Pairwise Interaction Model Provides an Accurate Description of In Vivo Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99015.
The identification of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on genomic DNA is of crucial importance for understanding and predicting regulatory elements in gene networks. TFBS motifs are commonly described by Position Weight Matrices (PWMs), in which each DNA base pair contributes independently to the transcription factor (TF) binding. However, this description ignores correlations between nucleotides at different positions, and is generally inaccurate: analysing fly and mouse in vivo ChIPseq data, we show that in most cases the PWM model fails to reproduce the observed statistics of TFBSs. To overcome this issue, we introduce the pairwise interaction model (PIM), a generalization of the PWM model. The model is based on the principle of maximum entropy and explicitly describes pairwise correlations between nucleotides at different positions, while being otherwise as unconstrained as possible. It is mathematically equivalent to considering a TF-DNA binding energy that depends additively on each nucleotide identity at all positions in the TFBS, like the PWM model, but also additively on pairs of nucleotides. We find that the PIM significantly improves over the PWM model, and even provides an optimal description of TFBS statistics within statistical noise. The PIM generalizes previous approaches to interdependent positions: it accounts for co-variation of two or more base pairs, and predicts secondary motifs, while outperforming multiple-motif models consisting of mixtures of PWMs. We analyse the structure of pairwise interactions between nucleotides, and find that they are sparse and dominantly located between consecutive base pairs in the flanking region of TFBS. Nonetheless, interactions between pairs of non-consecutive nucleotides are found to play a significant role in the obtained accurate description of TFBS statistics. The PIM is computationally tractable, and provides a general framework that should be useful for describing and predicting TFBSs beyond PWMs.
PMCID: PMC4057186  PMID: 24926895
21.  Factors Affecting Splicing Strength of Yeast Genes 
Accurate and efficient splicing is of crucial importance for highly-transcribed intron-containing genes (ICGs) in rapidly replicating unicellular eukaryotes such as the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We characterize the 5′ and 3′ splice sites (ss) by position weight matrix scores (PWMSs), which is the highest for the consensus sequence and the lowest for splice sites differing most from the consensus sequence and used PWMS as a proxy for splicing strength. HAC1, which is known to be spliced by a nonspliceosomal mechanism, has the most negative PWMS for both its 5′ ss and 3′ ss. Several genes under strong splicing regulation and requiring additional splicing factors for their splicing also have small or negative PWMS values. Splicing strength is higher for highly transcribed ICGs than for lowly transcribed ICGs and higher for transcripts that bind strongly to spliceosomes than those that bind weakly. The 3′ splice site features a prominent poly-U tract before the 3′AG. Our results suggest the potential of using PWMS as a screening tool for ICGs that are either spliced by a nonspliceosome mechanism or under strong splicing regulation in yeast and other fungal species.
PMCID: PMC3226532  PMID: 22162666
22.  A Bayesian Search for Transcriptional Motifs 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13897.
Identifying transcription factor (TF) binding sites (TFBSs) is an important step towards understanding transcriptional regulation. A common approach is to use gaplessly aligned, experimentally supported TFBSs for a particular TF, and algorithmically search for more occurrences of the same TFBSs. The largest publicly available databases of TF binding specificities contain models which are represented as position weight matrices (PWM). There are other methods using more sophisticated representations, but these have more limited databases, or aren't publicly available. Therefore, this paper focuses on methods that search using one PWM per TF. An algorithm, MATCHTM, for identifying TFBSs corresponding to a particular PWM is available, but is not based on a rigorous statistical model of TF binding, making it difficult to interpret or adjust the parameters and output of the algorithm. Furthermore, there is no public description of the algorithm sufficient to exactly reproduce it. Another algorithm, MAST, computes a p-value for the presence of a TFBS using true probabilities of finding each base at each offset from that position. We developed a statistical model, BaSeTraM, for the binding of TFs to TFBSs, taking into account random variation in the base present at each position within a TFBS. Treating the counts in the matrices and the sequences of sites as random variables, we combine this TFBS composition model with a background model to obtain a Bayesian classifier. We implemented our classifier in a package (SBaSeTraM). We tested SBaSeTraM against a MATCHTM implementation by searching all probes used in an experimental Saccharomyces cerevisiae TF binding dataset, and comparing our predictions to the data. We found no statistically significant differences in sensitivity between the algorithms (at fixed selectivity), indicating that SBaSeTraM's performance is at least comparable to the leading currently available algorithm. Our software is freely available at:
PMCID: PMC2987817  PMID: 21124986
23.  ScerTF: a comprehensive database of benchmarked position weight matrices for Saccharomyces species 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(D1):D162-D168.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a primary model for studies of transcriptional control, and the specificities of most yeast transcription factors (TFs) have been determined by multiple methods. However, it is unclear which position weight matrices (PWMs) are most useful; for the roughly 200 TFs in yeast, there are over 1200 PWMs in the literature. To address this issue, we created ScerTF, a comprehensive database of 1226 motifs from 11 different sources. We identified a single matrix for each TF that best predicts in vivo data by benchmarking matrices against chromatin immunoprecipitation and TF deletion experiments. We also used in vivo data to optimize thresholds for identifying regulatory sites with each matrix. To correct for biases from different methods, we developed a strategy to combine matrices. These aligned matrices outperform the best available matrix for several TFs. We used the matrices to predict co-occurring regulatory elements in the genome and identified many known TF combinations. In addition, we predict new combinations and provide evidence of combinatorial regulation from gene expression data. The database is available through a web interface at The site allows users to search the database with a regulatory site or matrix to identify the TFs most likely to bind the input sequence.
PMCID: PMC3245033  PMID: 22140105
24.  Pseudocounts for transcription factor binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;37(3):939-944.
To represent the sequence specificity of transcription factors, the position weight matrix (PWM) is widely used. In most cases, each element is defined as a log likelihood ratio of a base appearing at a certain position, which is estimated from a finite number of known binding sites. To avoid bias due to this small sample size, a certain numeric value, called a pseudocount, is usually allocated for each position, and its fraction according to the background base composition is added to each element. So far, there has been no consensus on the optimal pseudocount value. In this study, we simulated the sampling process by artificially generating binding sites based on observed nucleotide frequencies in a public PWM database, and then the generated matrix with an added pseudocount value was compared to the original frequency matrix using various measures. Although the results were somewhat different between measures, in many cases, we could find an optimal pseudocount value for each matrix. These optimal values are independent of the sample size and are clearly correlated with the entropy of the original matrices, meaning that larger pseudocount vales are preferable for less conserved binding sites. As a simple representative, we suggest the value of 0.8 for practical uses.
PMCID: PMC2647310  PMID: 19106141
25.  Identification of polymorphic antioxidant response elements (AREs) in the human genome 
Human molecular genetics  2007;16(10):1188-1200.
Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) may affect the binding of transcription factors, lead to differences in gene expression and phenotypes, and therefore affect susceptibility to environmental exposure. We developed an integrated computational system for discovering functional SNPs in TFBSs in the human genome and predicting their impact on the expression of target genes. In this system we: (1) construct a position weight matrix (PWM) from a collection of experimentally discovered TFBSs; (2) predict TFBSs in SNP sequences using the PWM and map SNPs to the upstream regions of genes; (3) examine the evolutionary conservation of putative TFBSs by phylogenetic footprinting; (4) prioritize candidate SNPs based on microarray expression profiles from tissues in which the transcription factor of interest is either deleted or over-expressed; and (5) finally, analyze association of SNP genotypes with gene expression phenotypes. The application of our system has been tested to identify functional polymorphisms in the antioxidant response element (ARE), a cis-acting enhancer sequence found in the promoter region of many genes that encode antioxidant and Phase II detoxification enzymes/proteins. In response to oxidative stress, the transcription factor NRF2 (nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2-like 2) binds to AREs, mediating transcriptional activation of its responsive genes and modulating in vivo defense mechanisms against oxidative damage. Using our novel computational tools, we have identified a set of polymorphic AREs with functional evidence, showing the utility of our system to direct further experimental validation of genomic sequence variations that could be useful for identifying high-risk individuals.
PMCID: PMC2805149  PMID: 17409198

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