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1.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003214
PMCID: PMC3764009  PMID: 24039567
2.  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
3.  An intuitionistic approach to scoring DNA sequences against transcription factor binding site motifs 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:551.
Background
Transcription factors (TFs) control transcription by binding to specific regions of DNA called transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs). The identification of TFBSs is a crucial problem in computational biology and includes the subtask of predicting the location of known TFBS motifs in a given DNA sequence. It has previously been shown that, when scoring matches to known TFBS motifs, interdependencies between positions within a motif should be taken into account. However, this remains a challenging task owing to the fact that sequences similar to those of known TFBSs can occur by chance with a relatively high frequency. Here we present a new method for matching sequences to TFBS motifs based on intuitionistic fuzzy sets (IFS) theory, an approach that has been shown to be particularly appropriate for tackling problems that embody a high degree of uncertainty.
Results
We propose SCintuit, a new scoring method for measuring sequence-motif affinity based on IFS theory. Unlike existing methods that consider dependencies between positions, SCintuit is designed to prevent overestimation of less conserved positions of TFBSs. For a given pair of bases, SCintuit is computed not only as a function of their combined probability of occurrence, but also taking into account the individual importance of each single base at its corresponding position. We used SCintuit to identify known TFBSs in DNA sequences. Our method provides excellent results when dealing with both synthetic and real data, outperforming the sensitivity and the specificity of two existing methods in all the experiments we performed.
Conclusions
The results show that SCintuit improves the prediction quality for TFs of the existing approaches without compromising sensitivity. In addition, we show how SCintuit can be successfully applied to real research problems. In this study the reliability of the IFS theory for motif discovery tasks is proven.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-551
PMCID: PMC3098096  PMID: 21059262
4.  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
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.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024210
PMCID: PMC3166302  PMID: 21912677
7.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099015
PMCID: PMC4057186  PMID: 24926895
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  Simultaneous prediction of transcription factor binding sites in a group of prokaryotic genomes 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:397.
Background
Our current understanding of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in sequenced prokaryotic genomes is very limited due to the lack of an accurate and efficient computational method for the prediction of TFBSs at a genome scale. In an attempt to change this situation, we have recently developed a comparative genomics based algorithm called GLECLUBS for de novo genome-wide prediction of TFBSs in a target genome. Although GLECLUBS has achieved rather high prediction accuracy of TFBSs in a target genome, it is still not efficient enough to be applied to all the sequenced prokaryotic genomes.
Results
Here, we designed a new algorithm based on GLECLUBS called extended GLECLUBS (eGLECLUBS) for simultaneous prediction of TFBSs in a group of related prokaryotic genomes. When tested on a group of γ-proteobacterial genomes including E. coli K12, a group of firmicutes genomes including B. subtilis and a group of cyanobacterial genomes using the same parameter settings, eGLECLUBS predicts more than 82% of known TFBSs in extracted inter-operonic sequences in both E. coli K12 and B. subtilis. Because each genome in a group is equally treated, it is highly likely that similar prediction accuracy has been achieved for each genome in the group.
Conclusions
We have developed a new algorithm for genome-wide de novo prediction of TFBSs in a group of related prokaryotic genomes. The algorithm has achieved the same level of accuracy and robustness as its predecessor GLECLUBS, but can work on dozens of genomes at the same time.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-397
PMCID: PMC2920276  PMID: 20653963
12.  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
13.  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
14.  Application of experimentally verified transcription factor binding sites models for computational analysis of ChIP-Seq data 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:80.
Background
ChIP-Seq is widely used to detect genomic segments bound by transcription factors (TF), either directly at DNA binding sites (BSs) or indirectly via other proteins. Currently, there are many software tools implementing different approaches to identify TFBSs within ChIP-Seq peaks. However, their use for the interpretation of ChIP-Seq data is usually complicated by the absence of direct experimental verification, making it difficult both to set a threshold to avoid recognition of too many false-positive BSs, and to compare the actual performance of different models.
Results
Using ChIP-Seq data for FoxA2 binding loci in mouse adult liver and human HepG2 cells we compared FoxA binding-site predictions for four computational models of two fundamental classes: pattern matching based on existing training set of experimentally confirmed TFBSs (oPWM and SiteGA) and de novo motif discovery (ChIPMunk and diChIPMunk). To properly select prediction thresholds for the models, we experimentally evaluated affinity of 64 predicted FoxA BSs using EMSA that allows safely distinguishing sequences able to bind TF. As a result we identified thousands of reliable FoxA BSs within ChIP-Seq loci from mouse liver and human HepG2 cells. It was found that the performance of conventional position weight matrix (PWM) models was inferior with the highest false positive rate. On the contrary, the best recognition efficiency was achieved by the combination of SiteGA & diChIPMunk/ChIPMunk models, properly identifying FoxA BSs in up to 90% of loci for both mouse and human ChIP-Seq datasets.
Conclusions
The experimental study of TF binding to oligonucleotides corresponding to predicted sites increases the reliability of computational methods for TFBS-recognition in ChIP-Seq data analysis. Regarding ChIP-Seq data interpretation, basic PWMs have inferior TFBS recognition quality compared to the more sophisticated SiteGA and de novo motif discovery methods. A combination of models from different principles allowed identification of proper TFBSs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-80
PMCID: PMC4234207  PMID: 24472686
ChIP-Seq; EMSA; Transcription factor binding sites; FoxA; SiteGA; PWM; Transcription factor binding model; Dinucleotide frequencies
15.  PePPER: a webserver for prediction of prokaryote promoter elements and regulons 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:299.
Background
Accurate prediction of DNA motifs that are targets of RNA polymerases, sigma factors and transcription factors (TFs) in prokaryotes is a difficult mission mainly due to as yet undiscovered features in DNA sequences or structures in promoter regions. Improved prediction and comparison algorithms are currently available for identifying transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) and their accompanying TFs and regulon members.
Results
We here extend the current databases of TFs, TFBSs and regulons with our knowledge on Lactococcus lactis and developed a webserver for prediction, mining and visualization of prokaryote promoter elements and regulons via a novel concept. This new approach includes an all-in-one method of data mining for TFs, TFBSs, promoters, and regulons for any bacterial genome via a user-friendly webserver. We demonstrate the power of this method by mining WalRK regulons in Lactococci and Streptococci and, vice versa, use L. lactis regulon data (CodY) to mine closely related species.
Conclusions
The PePPER webserver offers, besides the all-in-one analysis method, a toolbox for mining for regulons, promoters and TFBSs and accommodates a new L. lactis regulon database in addition to already existing regulon data. Identification of putative regulons and full annotation of intergenic regions in any bacterial genome on the basis of existing knowledge on a related organism can now be performed by biologists and it can be done for a wide range of regulons. On the basis of the PePPER output, biologist can design experiments to further verify the existence and extent of the proposed regulons. The PePPER webserver is freely accessible at http://pepper.molgenrug.nl.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-299
PMCID: PMC3472324  PMID: 22747501
16.  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.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddm066
PMCID: PMC2805149  PMID: 17409198
17.  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
18.  Nucleosome organization in the vicinity of transcription factor binding sites in the human genome 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):493.
Background
The binding of transcription factors (TFs) to specific DNA sequences is an initial and crucial step of transcription. In eukaryotes, this process is highly dependent on the local chromatin state, which can be modified by recruiting chromatin remodelers. However, previous studies have focused mainly on nucleosome occupancy around the TF binding sites (TFBSs) of a few specific TFs. Here, we investigated the nucleosome occupancy profiles around computationally inferred binding sites, based on 519 TF binding motifs, in human GM12878 and K562 cells.
Results
Although high nucleosome occupancy is intrinsically encoded at TFBSs in vitro, nucleosomes are generally depleted at TFBSs in vivo, and approximately a quarter of TFBSs showed well-positioned in vivo nucleosomes on both sides. RNA polymerase near the transcription start site (TSS) has a large effect on the nucleosome occupancy distribution around the binding sites located within one kilobase to the nearest TSS; fuzzier nucleosome positioning was thus observed around these sites. In addition, in contrast to yeast, repressors, rather than activators, were more likely to bind to nucleosomal DNA in the human cells, and nucleosomes around repressor sites were better positioned in vivo. Genes with repressor sites exhibiting well-positioned nucleosomes on both sides, and genes with activator sites occupied by nucleosomes had significantly lower expression, suggesting that actions of activators and repressors are associated with the nucleosome occupancy around their binding sites. It was also interesting to note that most of the binding sites, which were not in the DNase I-hypersensitive regions, were cell-type specific, and higher in vivo nucleosome occupancy were observed at these binding sites.
Conclusions
This study demonstrated that RNA polymerase and the functions of bound TFs affected the local nucleosome occupancy around TFBSs, and nucleosome occupancy patterns around TFBSs were associated with the expression levels of target genes.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-15-493) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-493
PMCID: PMC4073502  PMID: 24942981
Nucleosome occupancy; Transcription factor binding site; Clustering
19.  Transcription Factor Binding Sites Prediction Based on Modified Nucleosomes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89226.
In computational methods, position weight matrices (PWMs) are commonly applied for transcription factor binding site (TFBS) prediction. Although these matrices are more accurate than simple consensus sequences to predict actual binding sites, they usually produce a large number of false positive (FP) predictions and so are impoverished sources of information. Several studies have employed additional sources of information such as sequence conservation or the vicinity to transcription start sites to distinguish true binding regions from random ones. Recently, the spatial distribution of modified nucleosomes has been shown to be associated with different promoter architectures. These aligned patterns can facilitate DNA accessibility for transcription factors. We hypothesize that using data from these aligned and periodic patterns can improve the performance of binding region prediction. In this study, we propose two effective features, “modified nucleosomes neighboring” and “modified nucleosomes occupancy”, to decrease FP in binding site discovery. Based on these features, we designed a logistic regression classifier which estimates the probability of a region as a TFBS. Our model learned each feature based on Sp1 binding sites on Chromosome 1 and was tested on the other chromosomes in human CD4+T cells. In this work, we investigated 21 histone modifications and found that only 8 out of 21 marks are strongly correlated with transcription factor binding regions. To prove that these features are not specific to Sp1, we combined the logistic regression classifier with the PWM, and created a new model to search TFBSs on the genome. We tested the model using transcription factors MAZ, PU.1 and ELF1 and compared the results to those using only the PWM. The results show that our model can predict Transcription factor binding regions more successfully. The relative simplicity of the model and capability of integrating other features make it a superior method for TFBS prediction.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089226
PMCID: PMC3931712  PMID: 24586611
20.  Connections Between ETV6-Modulated Genes: Identification of Shared Features 
Cancer Informatics  2008;6:183-201.
Accumulating genetic and functional evidence point to ETV6 as being the tumour suppressor gene targeted by the deletions at chromosome 12p12-13 found in various cancers, particularly childhood leukemia. ETV6 is a ubiquitously expressed transcription factor (TF) of the ETS family with very few known targeted genes. We recently compiled a list of 87 ETV6-modulated genes that can be classified into a number of subgroups based on their coordinated expression patterns. In the present report, we hypothesized that genes presenting a similar profile of modulation could also share biological features, promoter sequence similarities and/or, common transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs). Using an exploratory approach based on hierarchical clustering of expression data, Gene Ontology (GO) terms, sequence similarity and evolutionary conserved putative TFBSs, we found that many genes presenting a similar expression profile also share biological features and/or conserved predicted TFBSs but rarely show detectable promoter sequence similarities. We also calculated the proportion of ETV6-modulated genes that have any conserved TFBSs of the Jaspar database in their regulatory sequence and compared these proportions to those calculated for two other gene lists, ETV6 non-modulated and ETS-regulated. We found that the NF-kB, c-REL and p65 TFBSs, which all bind TFs of the REL class, were under-represented among the ETV6-modulated genes compared to the ETV6-non-modulated genes, while the Broad-complex 1 TFBS appeared to be over-represented. NF-Y and Chop/cEBP TFBSs were over-represented in the promoters of ETV6-modulated genes compared to ETS-regulated genes. These analyses will help direct further studies intending to understand the role of ETV6 as a transcriptional regulator and aid in constructing the ETV6-regulatory gene network.
PMCID: PMC2623305  PMID: 19259410
ETV6; ets member; transcription factor; microarrays; leukemogenesis
21.  Predicted transcription factor binding sites as predictors of operons in Escherichia coli and Streptomyces coelicolor 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:79.
Background
As a polycistronic transcriptional unit of one or more adjacent genes, operons play a key role in regulation and function in prokaryotic biology, and a better understanding of how they are constituted and controlled is needed. Recent efforts have attempted to predict operonic status in sequenced genomes using a variety of techniques and data sources. To date, non-homology based operon prediction strategies have mainly used predicted promoters and terminators present at the extremities of transcriptional unit as predictors, with reasonable success. However, transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), typically found upstream of the first gene in an operon, have not yet been evaluated.
Results
Here we apply a method originally developed for the prediction of TFBSs in Escherichia coli that minimises the need for prior knowledge and tests its ability to predict operons in E. coli and the 'more complex', pharmaceutically important, Streptomyces coelicolor. We demonstrate that through building genome specific TFBS position-specific-weight-matrices (PSWMs) it is possible to predict operons in E. coli and S. coelicolor with 83% and 93% accuracy respectively, using only TFBS as delimiters of operons. Additionally, the 'palindromicity' of TFBS footprint data of E. coli is characterised.
Conclusion
TFBS are proposed as novel independent features for use in prokaryotic operon prediction (whether alone or as part of a set of features) given their efficacy as operon predictors in E. coli and S. coelicolor. We also show that TFBS footprint data in E. coli generally contains inverted repeats with significantly (p < 0.05) greater palindromicity than random sequences. Consequently, the palindromicity of putative TFBSs predicted can also enhance operon predictions.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-79
PMCID: PMC2276206  PMID: 18269733
22.  CSMET: Comparative Genomic Motif Detection via Multi-Resolution Phylogenetic Shadowing 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(6):e1000090.
Functional turnover of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), such as whole-motif loss or gain, are common events during genome evolution. Conventional probabilistic phylogenetic shadowing methods model the evolution of genomes only at nucleotide level, and lack the ability to capture the evolutionary dynamics of functional turnover of aligned sequence entities. As a result, comparative genomic search of non-conserved motifs across evolutionarily related taxa remains a difficult challenge, especially in higher eukaryotes, where the cis-regulatory regions containing motifs can be long and divergent; existing methods rely heavily on specialized pattern-driven heuristic search or sampling algorithms, which can be difficult to generalize and hard to interpret based on phylogenetic principles. We propose a new method: Conditional Shadowing via Multi-resolution Evolutionary Trees, or CSMET, which uses a context-dependent probabilistic graphical model that allows aligned sites from different taxa in a multiple alignment to be modeled by either a background or an appropriate motif phylogeny conditioning on the functional specifications of each taxon. The functional specifications themselves are the output of a phylogeny which models the evolution not of individual nucleotides, but of the overall functionality (e.g., functional retention or loss) of the aligned sequence segments over lineages. Combining this method with a hidden Markov model that autocorrelates evolutionary rates on successive sites in the genome, CSMET offers a principled way to take into consideration lineage-specific evolution of TFBSs during motif detection, and a readily computable analytical form of the posterior distribution of motifs under TFBS turnover. On both simulated and real Drosophila cis-regulatory modules, CSMET outperforms other state-of-the-art comparative genomic motif finders.
Author Summary
Functional turnover of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), such as whole-motif loss or gain, are common events during genome evolution, and play a major role in shaping the genome and regulatory circuitry of contemporary species. Conventional methods for searching non-conserved motifs across evolutionarily related species have little or no probabilistic machinery to explicitly model this important evolutionary process; therefore, they offer little insight into the mechanism and dynamics of TFBS turnover and have limited power in finding motif patterns shaped by such processes. In this paper, we propose a new method: Conditional Shadowing via Multi-resolution Evolutionary Trees, or CSMET, which uses a mathematically elegant and computationally efficient way to model biological sequence evolution at both nucleotide level at each individual site, and functional level of a whole TFBS. CSMET offers the first principled way to take into consideration lineage-specific evolution of TFBSs and CRMs during motif detection, and offers a readily computable analytical form of the posterior distribution of motifs under TFBS turnover. Its performance improves upon current state-of-the-art programs. It represents an initial foray into the problem of statistical inference of functional evolution of TFBS, and offers a well-founded mathematical basis for the development of more realistic and informative models.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000090
PMCID: PMC2396503  PMID: 18535663
23.  Variable structure motifs for transcription factor binding sites 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:30.
Background
Classically, models of DNA-transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) have been based on relatively few known instances and have treated them as sites of fixed length using position weight matrices (PWMs). Various extensions to this model have been proposed, most of which take account of dependencies between the bases in the binding sites. However, some transcription factors are known to exhibit some flexibility and bind to DNA in more than one possible physical configuration. In some cases this variation is known to affect the function of binding sites. With the increasing volume of ChIP-seq data available it is now possible to investigate models that incorporate this flexibility. Previous work on variable length models has been constrained by: a focus on specific zinc finger proteins in yeast using restrictive models; a reliance on hand-crafted models for just one transcription factor at a time; and a lack of evaluation on realistically sized data sets.
Results
We re-analysed binding sites from the TRANSFAC database and found motivating examples where our new variable length model provides a better fit. We analysed several ChIP-seq data sets with a novel motif search algorithm and compared the results to one of the best standard PWM finders and a recently developed alternative method for finding motifs of variable structure. All the methods performed comparably in held-out cross validation tests. Known motifs of variable structure were recovered for p53, Stat5a and Stat5b. In addition our method recovered a novel generalised version of an existing PWM for Sp1 that allows for variable length binding. This motif improved classification performance.
Conclusions
We have presented a new gapped PWM model for variable length DNA binding sites that is not too restrictive nor over-parameterised. Our comparison with existing tools shows that on average it does not have better predictive accuracy than existing methods. However, it does provide more interpretable models of motifs of variable structure that are suitable for follow-up structural studies. To our knowledge, we are the first to apply variable length motif models to eukaryotic ChIP-seq data sets and consequently the first to show their value in this domain. The results include a novel motif for the ubiquitous transcription factor Sp1.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-30
PMCID: PMC2824720  PMID: 20074339
24.  Pinpointing transcription factor binding sites from ChIP-seq data with SeqSite 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5(Suppl 2):S3.
Background
Chromatin immunoprecipitation combined with the next-generation DNA sequencing technologies (ChIP-seq) becomes a key approach for detecting genome-wide sets of genomic sites bound by proteins, such as transcription factors (TFs). Several methods and open-source tools have been developed to analyze ChIP-seq data. However, most of them are designed for detecting TF binding regions instead of accurately locating transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs). It is still challenging to pinpoint TFBSs directly from ChIP-seq data, especially in regions with closely spaced binding events.
Results
With the aim to pinpoint TFBSs at a high resolution, we propose a novel method named SeqSite, implementing a two-step strategy: detecting tag-enriched regions first and pinpointing binding sites in the detected regions. The second step is done by modeling the tag density profile, locating TFBSs on each strand with a least-squares model fitting strategy, and merging the detections from the two strands. Experiments on simulation data show that SeqSite can locate most of the binding sites more than 40-bp from each other. Applications on three human TF ChIP-seq datasets demonstrate the advantage of SeqSite for its higher resolution in pinpointing binding sites compared with existing methods.
Conclusions
We have developed a computational tool named SeqSite, which can pinpoint both closely spaced and isolated binding sites, and consequently improves the resolution of TFBS detection from ChIP-seq data.
doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-S2-S3
PMCID: PMC3287483  PMID: 22784574
25.  Improved predictions of transcription factor binding sites using physicochemical features of DNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(22):e175.
Typical approaches for predicting transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) involve use of a position-specific weight matrix (PWM) to statistically characterize the sequences of the known sites. Recently, an alternative physicochemical approach, called SiteSleuth, was proposed. In this approach, a linear support vector machine (SVM) classifier is trained to distinguish TFBSs from background sequences based on local chemical and structural features of DNA. SiteSleuth appears to generally perform better than PWM-based methods. Here, we improve the SiteSleuth approach by considering both new physicochemical features and algorithmic modifications. New features are derived from Gibbs energies of amino acid–DNA interactions and hydroxyl radical cleavage profiles of DNA. Algorithmic modifications consist of inclusion of a feature selection step, use of a nonlinear kernel in the SVM classifier, and use of a consensus-based post-processing step for predictions. We also considered SVM classification based on letter features alone to distinguish performance gains from use of SVM-based models versus use of physicochemical features. The accuracy of each of the variant methods considered was assessed by cross validation using data available in the RegulonDB database for 54 Escherichia coli TFs, as well as by experimental validation using published ChIP-chip data available for Fis and Lrp.
doi:10.1093/nar/gks771
PMCID: PMC3526315  PMID: 22923524

Results 1-25 (1517999)