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1.  i-GSEA4GWAS: a web server for identification of pathways/gene sets associated with traits by applying an improved gene set enrichment analysis to genome-wide association study 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(Web Server issue):W90-W95.
Genome-wide association study (GWAS) is nowadays widely used to identify genes involved in human complex disease. The standard GWAS analysis examines SNPs/genes independently and identifies only a number of the most significant SNPs. It ignores the combined effect of weaker SNPs/genes, which leads to difficulties to explore biological function and mechanism from a systems point of view. Although gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) has been introduced to GWAS to overcome these limitations by identifying the correlation between pathways/gene sets and traits, the heavy dependence on genotype data, which is not easily available for most published GWAS investigations, has led to limited application of it. In order to perform GSEA on a simple list of GWAS SNP P-values, we implemented GSEA by using SNP label permutation. We further improved GSEA (i-GSEA) by focusing on pathways/gene sets with high proportion of significant genes. To provide researchers an open platform to analyze GWAS data, we developed the i-GSEA4GWAS (improved GSEA for GWAS) web server. i-GSEA4GWAS implements the i-GSEA approach and aims to provide new insights in complex disease studies. i-GSEA4GWAS is freely available at
PMCID: PMC2896119  PMID: 20435672
2.  A comparative study on gene-set analysis methods for assessing differential expression associated with the survival phenotype 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:377.
Many gene-set analysis methods have been previously proposed and compared through simulation studies and analysis of real datasets for binary phenotypes. We focused on the survival phenotype and compared the performances of Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA), Global Test (GT), Wald-type Test (WT) and Global Boost Test (GBST) methods in a simulation study and on two ovarian cancer data sets. We considered two versions of GSEA by allowing different weights: GSEA1 uses equal weights, yielding results similar to the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test; while GSEA2's weights are based on the correlation between genes and the phenotype.
We compared GSEA1, GSEA2, GT, WT and GBST in a simulation study with various settings for the correlation structure of the genes and the association parameter between the survival outcome and the genes. Simulation results indicated that GT, WT and GBST consistently have higher power than GSEA1 and GSEA2 across all scenarios. However, the power of the five tests depends on the combination of correlation structure and association parameter. For the ovarian cancer data set, using the FDR threshold of q < 0.1, the GT, WT and GBST detected 12, 6 and 8 significant pathways, respectively, whereas neither GSEA1 nor GSEA2 detected any significant pathways. In addition, among the pathways found significant by GT, WT, and GBST, three pathways - Purine metabolism, Leukocyte transendothelial migration and Jak-STAT signaling pathway - overlapped with those reported in previous ovarian cancer microarray studies.
Simulation studies and a real data example indicate that GT, WT and GBST tend to have high power, whereas GSEA1 and GSEA2 have lower power. We also found that the power of the five tests is much higher when genes are correlated than when genes are independent, when survival is positively associated with genes. It seems that there is a synergistic effect in detecting significant gene sets when significant genes have within-class correlation and the association between survival and genes is positive or negative (i.e., one-direction correlation).
PMCID: PMC3196970  PMID: 21943316
3.  Common variants conferring risk of schizophrenia: a pathway analysis of GWAS data 
Schizophrenia research  2010;122(1-3):38-42.
Unlike the typical analysis of single markers in genome-wide association studies (GWAS), we incorporated Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) and hypergeometric test and combined them using Fisher's combined method to perform pathway-based analysis in order to detect genes’ combined effects on mediating schizophrenia. A few pathways were consistently found to be top ranked and likely associated with schizophrenia by these methods; they are related to metabolism of glutamate, the process of apoptosis, inflammation, and immune system (e.g., glutamate metabolism pathway, TGF-beta signaling pathway, and TNFR1 pathway). The genes involved in these pathways had not been detected by single marker analysis, suggesting this approach may complement the original analysis of GWAS dataset.
PMCID: PMC2933424  PMID: 20659789
Schizophrenia; gene set enrichment analysis; GWAS; pathway; candidate gene
4.  Pathway Analysis for Genome-Wide Association Study of Lung Cancer in Han Chinese Population 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e57763.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified a number of genetic variants associated with lung cancer risk. However, these loci explain only a small fraction of lung cancer hereditability and other variants with weak effect may be lost in the GWAS approach due to the stringent significance level after multiple comparison correction. In this study, in order to identify important pathways involving the lung carcinogenesis, we performed a two-stage pathway analysis in GWAS of lung cancer in Han Chinese using gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) method. Predefined pathways by BioCarta and KEGG databases were systematically evaluated on Nanjing study (Discovery stage: 1,473 cases and 1,962 controls) and the suggestive pathways were further to be validated in Beijing study (Replication stage: 858 cases and 1,115 controls). We found that four pathways (achPathway, metPathway, At1rPathway and rac1Pathway) were consistently significant in both studies and the P values for combined dataset were 0.012, 0.010, 0.022 and 0.005 respectively. These results were stable after sensitivity analysis based on gene definition and gene overlaps between pathways. These findings may provide new insights into the etiology of lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3585721  PMID: 23469231
5.  Pathway analysis of breast cancer genome wide association study highlights three pathways and one canonical signaling cascade 
Cancer research  2010;70(11):4453-4459.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) focus on relatively few highly significant loci while less attention is given to other genotyped markers. Employing pathway analysis to existing GWAS data may shed light on relevant biological processes, and illuminate new candidate genes. We employed a pathway-based approach to the breast cancer GWAS data of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility (CGEMS) project that includes 1145 cases and 1142 controls. Pathways were retrieved from three databases: KEGG, BioCarta, and the NCI’s Protein Interaction Database (PID). Genes were represented by their most strongly associated SNP, and an enrichment score (ES) reflecting the overrepresentation of gene-based association signals in each pathway was calculated using a weighted Kolmogorov-Smirnov procedure. Finally, hierarchical clustering was used to identify pathways with overlapping genes, and clusters with excess of association signals were determined by the adaptive rank-truncated product (ARTP) method. A total of 421 pathways containing 3962 genes were included in our study. Of these, three pathways (‘Syndecan-1-mediated signaling ‘, ‘Signaling of Hepatocyte Growth Factor Receptor’ and ‘Growth Hormone Signaling’) were highly enriched with association signals (PES < 0.001, False Discovery Rate (FDR) = 0.118). Our clustering analysis revealed that pathways containing key components of the RAS/RAF/MAPK canonical signaling cascade, were significantly more likely to have excess of association signals than expected by chance (PARTP = 0.0051, FDR = 0.07). These results suggest that genetic alterations associated with these three pathways and one canonical signaling cascade may contribute to breast cancer susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC2907250  PMID: 20460509
Pathways; GWAS; Breast cancer; Susceptibility; Genetics
6.  The Limitations of Simple Gene Set Enrichment Analysis Assuming Gene Independence 
Statistical methods in medical research  2012;10.1177/0962280212460441.
Since its first publication in 2003, the Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) method, based on the Kolmogorov-Smirnov statistic, has been heavily used, modified, and also questioned. Recently a simplified approach, using a one-sample t-test score to assess enrichment and ignoring gene-gene correlations was proposed by Irizarry et al. 2009 as a serious contender. The argument criticizes GSEA’s nonparametric nature and its use of an empirical null distribution as unnecessary and hard to compute. We refute these claims by careful consideration of the assumptions of the simplified method and its results, including a comparison with GSEA’s on a large benchmark set of 50 datasets. Our results provide strong empirical evidence that gene-gene correlations cannot be ignored due to the significant variance inflation they produced on the enrichment scores and should be taken into account when estimating gene set enrichment significance. In addition, we discuss the challenges that the complex correlation structure and multi-modality of gene sets pose more generally for gene set enrichment methods.
PMCID: PMC3758419  PMID: 23070592
7.  Dual KS: Defining Gene Sets with Tissue Set Enrichment Analysis 
Cancer Informatics  2010;9:1-9.
Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) is an analytic approach which simultaneously reduces the dimensionality of microarray data and enables ready inference of the biological meaning of observed gene expression patterns. Here we invert the GSEA process to identify class-specific gene signatures. Because our approach uses the Kolmogorov-Smirnov approach both to define class specific signatures and to classify samples using those signatures, we have termed this methodology “Dual-KS” (DKS).
The optimum gene signature identified by the DKS algorithm was smaller than other methods to which it was compared in 5 out of 10 datasets. The estimated error rate of DKS using the optimum gene signature was smaller than the estimated error rate of the random forest method in 4 out of the 10 datasets, and was equivalent in two additional datasets. DKS performance relative to other benchmarked algorithms was similar to its performance relative to random forests.
DKS is an efficient analytic methodology that can identify highly parsimonious gene signatures useful for classification in the context of microarray studies. The algorithm is available as the dualKS package for R as part of the bioconductor project.
PMCID: PMC2816930  PMID: 20148167
gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA); gene expression; DKS algorithm; gene signatures
8.  Integration of a priori gene set information into genome-wide association studies 
BMC Proceedings  2009;3(Suppl 7):S95.
In genome-wide association studies (GWAS) genetic markers are often ranked to select genes for further pursuit. Especially for moderately associated and interrelated genes, information on genes and pathways may improve the selection. We applied and combined two main approaches for data integration to a GWAS for rheumatoid arthritis, gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) and hierarchical Bayes prioritization (HBP). Many associated genes are located in the HLA region on 6p21. However, the ranking lists of genes and gene sets differ considerably depending on the chosen approach: HBP changes the ranking only slightly and primarily contains HLA genes in the top 100 gene lists. GSEA includes also many non-HLA genes.
PMCID: PMC2795999  PMID: 20018092
9.  Gene Set of Nuclear-Encoded Mitochondrial Regulators Is Enriched for Common Inherited Variation in Obesity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55884.
There are hints of an altered mitochondrial function in obesity. Nuclear-encoded genes are relevant for mitochondrial function (3 gene sets of known relevant pathways: (1) 16 nuclear regulators of mitochondrial genes, (2) 91 genes for oxidative phosphorylation and (3) 966 nuclear-encoded mitochondrial genes). Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) showed no association with type 2 diabetes mellitus in these gene sets. Here we performed a GSEA for the same gene sets for obesity. Genome wide association study (GWAS) data from a case-control approach on 453 extremely obese children and adolescents and 435 lean adult controls were used for GSEA. For independent confirmation, we analyzed 705 obesity GWAS trios (extremely obese child and both biological parents) and a population-based GWAS sample (KORA F4, n = 1,743). A meta-analysis was performed on all three samples. In each sample, the distribution of significance levels between the respective gene set and those of all genes was compared using the leading-edge-fraction-comparison test (cut-offs between the 50th and 95th percentile of the set of all gene-wise corrected p-values) as implemented in the MAGENTA software. In the case-control sample, significant enrichment of associations with obesity was observed above the 50th percentile for the set of the 16 nuclear regulators of mitochondrial genes (pGSEA,50 = 0.0103). This finding was not confirmed in the trios (pGSEA,50 = 0.5991), but in KORA (pGSEA,50 = 0.0398). The meta-analysis again indicated a trend for enrichment (pMAGENTA,50 = 0.1052, pMAGENTA,75 = 0.0251). The GSEA revealed that weak association signals for obesity might be enriched in the gene set of 16 nuclear regulators of mitochondrial genes.
PMCID: PMC3568071  PMID: 23409076
10.  Variable set enrichment analysis in genome-wide association studies 
Complex diseases such as hypertension are inherently multifactorial and involve many factors of mild-to-minute effect sizes. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) typically tests hundreds of thousands of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and offers opportunity to evaluate aggregated effects of many genetic variants with effects that are too small to detect individually. The gene-set-enrichment analysis (GSEA) is a pathway-based approach that tests for such aggregated effects of genes that are linked by biological functions. A key step in GSEA is the summary statistic (gene score) used to measure the overall relevance of a gene based on all SNPs tested in the gene. Existing GSEA methods use maximum statistics sensitive to gene size and linkage equilibrium. We propose the approach of variable set enrichment analysis (VSEA) and study new gene score methods that are less dependent on gene size. The new method treats groups of variables (SNPs or other variants) as base units for summarizing gene scores and relies less on gene definition itself. The power of VSEA is analyzed by simulation studies modeling various scenarios of complex multiloci interactions. Results show that the new gene scores generally performed better, some substantially so, than existing GSEA extension to GWAS. The new methods are implemented in an R package and when applied to a real GWAS data set demonstrated its practical utility in a GWAS setting.
PMCID: PMC3172928  PMID: 21427759
gene set enrichment; pathway-based analysis; SNP; genome-wide association
11.  Merging microarray data, robust feature selection, and predicting prognosis in prostate cancer 
Cancer Informatics  2007;2:87-97.
Individual microarray studies searching for prognostic biomarkers often have few samples and low statistical power; however, publicly accessible data sets make it possible to combine data across studies.
We present a novel approach for combining microarray data across institutions and platforms. We introduce a new algorithm, robust greedy feature selection (RGFS), to select predictive genes.
We combined two prostate cancer microarray data sets, confirmed the appropriateness of the approach with the Kolmogorov-Smirnov goodness-of-fit test, and built several predictive models. The best logistic regression model with stepwise forward selection used 7 genes and had a misclassification rate of 31%. Models that combined LDA with different feature selection algorithms had misclassification rates between 19% and 33%, and the sets of genes in the models varied substantially during cross-validation. When we combined RGFS with LDA, the best model used two genes and had a misclassification rate of 15%.
Affymetrix U95Av2 array data are available at The cDNA microarray data are available through the Stanford Microarray Database ( GeneLink software is freely available at DNA-Chip Analyzer software is publicly available at
PMCID: PMC2675498  PMID: 19458761
combining data; cross-validation; feature selection; microarray expression profiling; predictive model; prostrate cancer
12.  Comparative study of gene set enrichment methods 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:275.
The analysis of high-throughput gene expression data with respect to sets of genes rather than individual genes has many advantages. A variety of methods have been developed for assessing the enrichment of sets of genes with respect to differential expression. In this paper we provide a comparative study of four of these methods: Fisher's exact test, Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA), Random-Sets (RS), and Gene List Analysis with Prediction Accuracy (GLAPA). The first three methods use associative statistics, while the fourth uses predictive statistics. We first compare all four methods on simulated data sets to verify that Fisher's exact test is markedly worse than the other three approaches. We then validate the other three methods on seven real data sets with known genetic perturbations and then compare the methods on two cancer data sets where our a priori knowledge is limited.
The simulation study highlights that none of the three method outperforms all others consistently. GSEA and RS are able to detect weak signals of deregulation and they perform differently when genes in a gene set are both differentially up and down regulated. GLAPA is more conservative and large differences between the two phenotypes are required to allow the method to detect differential deregulation in gene sets. This is due to the fact that the enrichment statistic in GLAPA is prediction error which is a stronger criteria than classical two sample statistic as used in RS and GSEA. This was reflected in the analysis on real data sets as GSEA and RS were seen to be significant for particular gene sets while GLAPA was not, suggesting a small effect size. We find that the rank of gene set enrichment induced by GLAPA is more similar to RS than GSEA. More importantly, the rankings of the three methods share significant overlap.
The three methods considered in our study recover relevant gene sets known to be deregulated in the experimental conditions and pathologies analyzed. There are differences between the three methods and GSEA seems to be more consistent in finding enriched gene sets, although no method uniformly dominates over all data sets. Our analysis highlights the deep difference existing between associative and predictive methods for detecting enrichment and the use of both to better interpret results of pathway analysis. We close with suggestions for users of gene set methods.
PMCID: PMC2746222  PMID: 19725948
13.  A.N. Kolmogorov’s defence of Mendelism 
Genetics and Molecular Biology  2011;34(2):177-186.
In 1939 N.I. Ermolaeva published the results of an experiment which repeated parts of Mendel’s classical experiments. On the basis of her experiment she concluded that Mendel’s principle that self-pollination of hybrid plants gave rise to segregation proportions 3:1 was false. The great probability theorist A.N. Kolmogorov reviewed Ermolaeva’s data using a test, now referred to as Kolmogorov’s, or Kolmogorov-Smirnov, test, which he had proposed in 1933. He found, contrary to Ermolaeva, that her results clearly confirmed Mendel’s principle. This paper shows that there were methodological flaws in Kolmogorov’s statistical analysis and presents a substantially adjusted approach, which confirms his conclusions. Some historical commentary on the Lysenko-era background is given, to illuminate the relationship of the disciplines of genetics and statistics in the struggle against the prevailing politically-correct pseudoscience in the Soviet Union. There is a Brazilian connection through the person of Th. Dobzhansky.
PMCID: PMC3115669  PMID: 21734813
Mendel’s peas; hybrids; segregation ratio; Kolmogorov-Smirnov test; chi-squared test
14.  Comparisons of seven algorithms for pathway analysis using the WTCCC Crohn's Disease dataset 
BMC Research Notes  2011;4:386.
Though rooted in genomic expression studies, pathway analysis for genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has gained increasing popularity, since it has the potential to discover hidden disease pathogenic mechanisms by combining statistical methods with biological knowledge. Generally, algorithms or programs proposed recently can be categorized by different types of input data, null hypothesis or counts of analysis stages. Due to complexity caused by SNP, gene and pathway relationships, re-sampling strategies like permutation are always utilized to derive an empirical distribution for test statistics for evaluating the significance of candidate pathways. However, evaluation of these algorithms on real GWAS datasets and real biological pathway databases needs to be addressed before we apply them widely with confidence.
Two algorithms which use summary statistics from GWAS as input were implemented in KGG, a novel and user-friendly software tool for GWAS pathway analysis. Comparisons of these two algorithms as well as the other five selected algorithms were conducted by analyzing the WTCCC Crohn's Disease dataset utilizing the MsigDB canonical pathways. As a result of using permutation to obtain empirical p-value, most of these methods could control Type I error rate well, although some are conservative. However, the methods varied greatly in terms of power and running time, with the PLINK truncated set-based test being the most powerful and KGG being the fastest.
Raw data-based algorithms, such as those implemented in PLINK, are preferable for GWAS pathway analysis as long as computational capacity is available. It may be worthwhile to apply two or more pathway analysis algorithms on the same GWAS dataset, since the methods differ greatly in their outputs and might provide complementary findings for the studied complex disease.
PMCID: PMC3199264  PMID: 21981765
15.  PAGE: Parametric Analysis of Gene Set Enrichment 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:144.
Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) is a microarray data analysis method that uses predefined gene sets and ranks of genes to identify significant biological changes in microarray data sets. GSEA is especially useful when gene expression changes in a given microarray data set is minimal or moderate.
We developed a modified gene set enrichment analysis method based on a parametric statistical analysis model. Compared with GSEA, the parametric analysis of gene set enrichment (PAGE) detected a larger number of significantly altered gene sets and their p-values were lower than the corresponding p-values calculated by GSEA. Because PAGE uses normal distribution for statistical inference, it requires less computation than GSEA, which needs repeated computation of the permutated data set. PAGE was able to detect significantly changed gene sets from microarray data irrespective of different Affymetrix probe level analysis methods or different microarray platforms. Comparison of two aged muscle microarray data sets at gene set level using PAGE revealed common biological themes better than comparison at individual gene level.
PAGE was statistically more sensitive and required much less computational effort than GSEA, it could identify significantly changed biological themes from microarray data irrespective of analysis methods or microarray platforms, and it was useful in comparison of multiple microarray data sets. We offer PAGE as a useful microarray analysis method.
PMCID: PMC1183189  PMID: 15941488
16.  SNP-based pathway enrichment analysis for genome-wide association studies 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:99.
Recently we have witnessed a surge of interest in using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to discover the genetic basis of complex diseases. Many genetic variations, mostly in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), have been identified in a wide spectrum of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and psychiatric diseases. A common theme arising from these studies is that the genetic variations discovered by GWAS can only explain a small fraction of the genetic risks associated with the complex diseases. New strategies and statistical approaches are needed to address this lack of explanation. One such approach is the pathway analysis, which considers the genetic variations underlying a biological pathway, rather than separately as in the traditional GWAS studies. A critical challenge in the pathway analysis is how to combine evidences of association over multiple SNPs within a gene and multiple genes within a pathway. Most current methods choose the most significant SNP from each gene as a representative, ignoring the joint action of multiple SNPs within a gene. This approach leads to preferential identification of genes with a greater number of SNPs.
We describe a SNP-based pathway enrichment method for GWAS studies. The method consists of the following two main steps: 1) for a given pathway, using an adaptive truncated product statistic to identify all representative (potentially more than one) SNPs of each gene, calculating the average number of representative SNPs for the genes, then re-selecting the representative SNPs of genes in the pathway based on this number; and 2) ranking all selected SNPs by the significance of their statistical association with a trait of interest, and testing if the set of SNPs from a particular pathway is significantly enriched with high ranks using a weighted Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. We applied our method to two large genetically distinct GWAS data sets of schizophrenia, one from European-American (EA) and the other from African-American (AA). In the EA data set, we found 22 pathways with nominal P-value less than or equal to 0.001 and corresponding false discovery rate (FDR) less than 5%. In the AA data set, we found 11 pathways by controlling the same nominal P-value and FDR threshold. Interestingly, 8 of these pathways overlap with those found in the EA sample. We have implemented our method in a JAVA software package, called SNP Set Enrichment Analysis (SSEA), which contains a user-friendly interface and is freely available at
The SNP-based pathway enrichment method described here offers a new alternative approach for analysing GWAS data. By applying it to schizophrenia GWAS studies, we show that our method is able to identify statistically significant pathways, and importantly, pathways that can be replicated in large genetically distinct samples.
PMCID: PMC3102637  PMID: 21496265
17.  An Integrative Genomics Approach to Biomarker Discovery in Breast Cancer 
Cancer Informatics  2011;10:185-204.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have successfully identified genetic variants associated with risk for breast cancer. However, the molecular mechanisms through which the identified variants confer risk or influence phenotypic expression remains poorly understood. Here, we present a novel integrative genomics approach that combines GWAS information with gene expression data to assess the combined contribution of multiple genetic variants acting within genes and putative biological pathways, and to identify novel genes and biological pathways that could not be identified using traditional GWAS. The results show that genes containing SNPs associated with risk for breast cancer are functionally related and interact with each other in biological pathways relevant to breast cancer. Additionally, we identified novel genes that are co-expressed and interact with genes containing SNPs associated with breast cancer. Integrative analysis combining GWAS information with gene expression data provides functional bridges between GWAS findings and biological pathways involved in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3153161  PMID: 21869864
genome-wide association studies gene expression pathway
18.  Integrative pathway analysis of genome-wide association studies and gene expression data in prostate cancer 
BMC Systems Biology  2012;6(Suppl 3):S13.
Pathway analysis of large-scale omics data assists us with the examination of the cumulative effects of multiple functionally related genes, which are difficult to detect using the traditional single gene/marker analysis. So far, most of the genomic studies have been conducted in a single domain, e.g., by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) or microarray gene expression investigation. A combined analysis of disease susceptibility genes across multiple platforms at the pathway level is an urgent need because it can reveal more reliable and more biologically important information.
We performed an integrative pathway analysis of a GWAS dataset and a microarray gene expression dataset in prostate cancer. We obtained a comprehensive pathway annotation set from knowledge-based public resources, including KEGG pathways and the prostate cancer candidate gene set, and gene sets specifically defined based on cross-platform information. By leveraging on this pathway collection, we first searched for significant pathways in the GWAS dataset using four methods, which represent two broad groups of pathway analysis approaches. The significant pathways identified by each method varied greatly, but the results were more consistent within each method group than between groups. Next, we conducted a gene set enrichment analysis of the microarray gene expression data and found 13 pathways with cross-platform evidence, including "Fc gamma R-mediated phagocytosis" (PGWAS = 0.003, Pexpr < 0.001, and Pcombined = 6.18 × 10-8), "regulation of actin cytoskeleton" (PGWAS = 0.003, Pexpr = 0.009, and Pcombined = 3.34 × 10-4), and "Jak-STAT signaling pathway" (PGWAS = 0.001, Pexpr = 0.084, and Pcombined = 8.79 × 10-4).
Our results provide evidence at both the genetic variation and expression levels that several key pathways might have been involved in the pathological development of prostate cancer. Our framework that employs gene expression data to facilitate pathway analysis of GWAS data is not only feasible but also much needed in studying complex disease.
PMCID: PMC3524313  PMID: 23281744
19.  Gene set enrichment analysis for non-monotone association and multiple experimental categories 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9:481.
Recently, microarray data analyses using functional pathway information, e.g., gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) and significance analysis of function and expression (SAFE), have gained recognition as a way to identify biological pathways/processes associated with a phenotypic endpoint. In these analyses, a local statistic is used to assess the association between the expression level of a gene and the value of a phenotypic endpoint. Then these gene-specific local statistics are combined to evaluate association for pre-selected sets of genes. Commonly used local statistics include t-statistics for binary phenotypes and correlation coefficients that assume a linear or monotone relationship between a continuous phenotype and gene expression level. Methods applicable to continuous non-monotone relationships are needed. Furthermore, for multiple experimental categories, methods that combine multiple GSEA/SAFE analyses are needed.
For continuous or ordinal phenotypic outcome, we propose to use as the local statistic the coefficient of multiple determination (i.e., the square of multiple correlation coefficient) R2 from fitting natural cubic spline models to the phenotype-expression relationship. Next, we incorporate this association measure into the GSEA/SAFE framework to identify significant gene sets. Unsigned local statistics, signed global statistics and one-sided p-values are used to reflect our inferential interest. Furthermore, we describe a procedure for inference across multiple GSEA/SAFE analyses. We illustrate our approach using gene expression and liver injury data from liver and blood samples from rats treated with eight hepatotoxicants under multiple time and dose combinations. We set out to identify biological pathways/processes associated with liver injury as manifested by increased blood levels of alanine transaminase in common for most of the eight compounds. Potential statistical dependency resulting from the experimental design is addressed in permutation based hypothesis testing.
The proposed framework captures both linear and non-linear association between gene expression level and a phenotypic endpoint and thus can be viewed as extending the current GSEA/SAFE methodology. The framework for combining results from multiple GSEA/SAFE analyses is flexible to address practical inference interests. Our methods can be applied to microarray data with continuous phenotypes with multi-level design or the meta-analysis of multiple microarray data sets.
PMCID: PMC2636811  PMID: 19014579
20.  GeneTrail—advanced gene set enrichment analysis 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(Web Server issue):W186-W192.
We present a comprehensive and efficient gene set analysis tool, called ‘GeneTrail’ that offers a rich functionality and is easy to use. Our web-based application facilitates the statistical evaluation of high-throughput genomic or proteomic data sets with respect to enrichment of functional categories. GeneTrail covers a wide variety of biological categories and pathways, among others KEGG, TRANSPATH, TRANSFAC, and GO. Our web server provides two common statistical approaches, ‘Over-Representation Analysis’ (ORA) comparing a reference set of genes to a test set, and ‘Gene Set Enrichment Analysis’ (GSEA) scoring sorted lists of genes. Besides other newly developed features, GeneTrail's statistics module includes a novel dynamic-programming algorithm that improves the P-value computation of GSEA methods considerably. GeneTrail is freely accessible at
PMCID: PMC1933132  PMID: 17526521
21.  Integrative Pathway-Based Approach for Genome-Wide Association Studies: Identification of New Pathways for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78577.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) led to the identification of numerous novel loci for a number of complex diseases. Pathway-based approaches using genotypic data provide tangible leads which cannot be identified by single marker approaches as implemented in GWAS. The available pathway analysis approaches mainly differ in the employed databases and in the applied statistics for determining the significance of the associated disease markers.
So far, pathway-based approaches using GWAS data failed to consider the overlapping of genes among different pathways or the influence of protein–interactions. We performed a multistage integrative pathway (MIP) analysis on three common diseases - Crohn's disease (CD), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and type 1 diabetes (T1D) - incorporating genotypic, pathway, protein- and domain-interaction data to identify novel associations between these diseases and pathways. Additionally, we assessed the sensitivity of our method by studying the influence of the most significant SNPs on the pathway analysis by removing those and comparing the corresponding pathway analysis results. Apart from confirming many previously published associations between pathways and RA, CD and T1D, our MIP approach was able to identify three new associations between disease phenotypes and pathways. This includes a relation between the influenza-A pathway and RA, as well as a relation between T1D and the phagosome and toxoplasmosis pathways. These results provide new leads to understand the molecular underpinnings of these diseases.
The developed software herein used is available at
PMCID: PMC3808349  PMID: 24205270
22.  Heart Rate Variability Dynamics for the Prognosis of Cardiovascular Risk 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e17060.
Statistical, spectral, multi-resolution and non-linear methods were applied to heart rate variability (HRV) series linked with classification schemes for the prognosis of cardiovascular risk. A total of 90 HRV records were analyzed: 45 from healthy subjects and 45 from cardiovascular risk patients. A total of 52 features from all the analysis methods were evaluated using standard two-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test (KS-test). The results of the statistical procedure provided input to multi-layer perceptron (MLP) neural networks, radial basis function (RBF) neural networks and support vector machines (SVM) for data classification. These schemes showed high performances with both training and test sets and many combinations of features (with a maximum accuracy of 96.67%). Additionally, there was a strong consideration for breathing frequency as a relevant feature in the HRV analysis.
PMCID: PMC3046173  PMID: 21386966
23.  Comparing gene set analysis methods on single-nucleotide polymorphism data from Genetic Analysis Workshop 16 
BMC Proceedings  2009;3(Suppl 7):S96.
Recently, gene set analysis (GSA) has been extended from use on gene expression data to use on single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data in genome-wide association studies. When GSA has been demonstrated on SNP data, two popular statistics from gene expression data analysis (gene set enrichment analysis [GSEA] and Fisher's exact test [FET]) have been used. However, GSEA and FET have shown a lack of power and robustness in the analysis of gene expression data. The purpose of this work is to investigate whether the same issues are also true for the analysis of SNP data. Ultimately, we conclude that GSEA and FET are not optimal for the analysis of SNP data when compared with the SUMSTAT method. In analysis of real SNP data from the Framingham Heart Study, we find that SUMSTAT finds many more gene sets to be significant when compared with other methods. In an analysis of simulated data, SUMSTAT demonstrates high power and better control of the type I error rate. GSA is a promising approach to the analysis of SNP data in GWAS and use of the SUMSTAT statistic instead of GSEA or FET may increase power and robustness.
PMCID: PMC2796000  PMID: 20018093
24.  Gene set analysis of GWAS data for human longevity highlights the relevance of the insulin/IGF-1 signaling and telomere maintenance pathways 
Age  2011;35(1):235-249.
In genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of complex traits, single SNP analysis is still the most applied approach. However, the identified SNPs have small effects and provide limited biological insight. A more appropriate approach to interpret GWAS data of complex traits is to analyze the combined effect of a SNP set grouped per pathway or gene region. We used this approach to study the joint effect on human longevity of genetic variation in two candidate pathways, the insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) signaling (IIS) pathway and the telomere maintenance (TM) pathway. For the analyses, we used genotyped GWAS data of 403 unrelated nonagenarians from long-lived sibships collected in the Leiden Longevity Study and 1,670 younger population controls. We analyzed 1,021 SNPs in 68 IIS pathway genes and 88 SNPs in 13 TM pathway genes using four self-contained pathway tests (PLINK set-based test, Global test, GRASS and SNP ratio test). Although we observed small differences between the results of the different pathway tests, they showed consistent significant association of the IIS and TM pathway SNP sets with longevity. Analysis of gene SNP sets from these pathways indicates that the association of the IIS pathway is scattered over several genes (AKT1, AKT3, FOXO4, IGF2, INS, PIK3CA, SGK, SGK2, and YWHAG), while the association of the TM pathway seems to be mainly determined by one gene (POT1). In conclusion, this study shows that genetic variation in genes involved in the IIS and TM pathways is associated with human longevity.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11357-011-9340-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3543749  PMID: 22113349
Genetics; Aging; Longevity; Gene set analysis; Insulin/IGF-1 signaling; Telomere maintenance
25.  Improving gene set analysis of microarray data by SAM-GS 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:242.
Gene-set analysis evaluates the expression of biological pathways, or a priori defined gene sets, rather than that of individual genes, in association with a binary phenotype, and is of great biologic interest in many DNA microarray studies. Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) has been applied widely as a tool for gene-set analyses. We describe here some critical problems with GSEA and propose an alternative method by extending the individual-gene analysis method, Significance Analysis of Microarray (SAM), to gene-set analyses (SAM-GS).
Using a mouse microarray dataset with simulated gene sets, we illustrate that GSEA gives statistical significance to gene sets that have no gene associated with the phenotype (null gene sets), and has very low power to detect gene sets in which half the genes are moderately or strongly associated with the phenotype (truly-associated gene sets). SAM-GS, on the other hand, performs very well. The two methods are also compared in the analyses of three real microarray datasets and relevant pathways, the diverging results of which clearly show advantages of SAM-GS over GSEA, both statistically and biologically. In a microarray study for identifying biological pathways whose gene expressions are associated with p53 mutation in cancer cell lines, we found biologically relevant performance differences between the two methods. Specifically, there are 31 additional pathways identified as significant by SAM-GS over GSEA, that are associated with the presence vs. absence of p53. Of the 31 gene sets, 11 actually involve p53 directly as a member. A further 6 gene sets directly involve the extrinsic and intrinsic apoptosis pathways, 3 involve the cell-cycle machinery, and 3 involve cytokines and/or JAK/STAT signaling. Each of these 12 gene sets, then, is in a direct, well-established relationship with aspects of p53 signaling. Of the remaining 8 gene sets, 6 have plausible, if less well established, links with p53.
We conclude that GSEA has important limitations as a gene-set analysis approach for microarray experiments for identifying biological pathways associated with a binary phenotype. As an alternative statistically-sound method, we propose SAM-GS. A free Excel Add-In for performing SAM-GS is available for public use.
PMCID: PMC1931607  PMID: 17612399

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