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1.  Enrichment Map: A Network-Based Method for Gene-Set Enrichment Visualization and Interpretation 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13984.
Gene-set enrichment analysis is a useful technique to help functionally characterize large gene lists, such as the results of gene expression experiments. This technique finds functionally coherent gene-sets, such as pathways, that are statistically over-represented in a given gene list. Ideally, the number of resulting sets is smaller than the number of genes in the list, thus simplifying interpretation. However, the increasing number and redundancy of gene-sets used by many current enrichment analysis software works against this ideal.
Principal Findings
To overcome gene-set redundancy and help in the interpretation of large gene lists, we developed “Enrichment Map”, a network-based visualization method for gene-set enrichment results. Gene-sets are organized in a network, where each set is a node and edges represent gene overlap between sets. Automated network layout groups related gene-sets into network clusters, enabling the user to quickly identify the major enriched functional themes and more easily interpret the enrichment results.
Enrichment Map is a significant advance in the interpretation of enrichment analysis. Any research project that generates a list of genes can take advantage of this visualization framework. Enrichment Map is implemented as a freely available and user friendly plug-in for the Cytoscape network visualization software (
PMCID: PMC2981572  PMID: 21085593
2.  SEAS: A System for SEED-Based Pathway Enrichment Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22556.
Pathway enrichment analysis represents a key technique for analyzing high-throughput omic data, and it can help to link individual genes or proteins found to be differentially expressed under specific conditions to well-understood biological pathways. We present here a computational tool, SEAS, for pathway enrichment analysis over a given set of genes in a specified organism against the pathways (or subsystems) in the SEED database, a popular pathway database for bacteria. SEAS maps a given set of genes of a bacterium to pathway genes covered by SEED through gene ID and/or orthology mapping, and then calculates the statistical significance of the enrichment of each relevant SEED pathway by the mapped genes. Our evaluation of SEAS indicates that the program provides highly reliable pathway mapping results and identifies more organism-specific pathways than similar existing programs. SEAS is publicly released under the GPL license agreement and freely available at
PMCID: PMC3142180  PMID: 21799897
3.  Multi-Edge Gene Set Networks Reveal Novel Insights into Global Relationships between Biological Themes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45211.
Curated gene sets from databases such as KEGG Pathway and Gene Ontology are often used to systematically organize lists of genes or proteins derived from high-throughput data. However, the information content inherent to some relationships between the interrogated gene sets, such as pathway crosstalk, is often underutilized. A gene set network, where nodes representing individual gene sets such as KEGG pathways are connected to indicate a functional dependency, is well suited to visualize and analyze global gene set relationships. Here we introduce a novel gene set network construction algorithm that integrates gene lists derived from high-throughput experiments with curated gene sets to construct co-enrichment gene set networks. Along with previously described co-membership and linkage algorithms, we apply the co-enrichment algorithm to eight gene set collections to construct integrated multi-evidence gene set networks with multiple edge types connecting gene sets. We demonstrate the utility of approach through examples of novel gene set networks such as the chromosome map co-differential expression gene set network. A total of twenty-four gene set networks are exposed via a web tool called MetaNet, where context-specific multi-edge gene set networks are constructed from enriched gene sets within user-defined gene lists. MetaNet is freely available at
PMCID: PMC3441533  PMID: 23028852
4.  PAGED: a pathway and gene-set enrichment database to enable molecular phenotype discoveries 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13(Suppl 15):S2.
Over the past decade, pathway and gene-set enrichment analysis has evolved into the study of high-throughput functional genomics. Owing to poorly annotated and incomplete pathway data, researchers have begun to combine pathway and gene-set enrichment analysis as well as network module-based approaches to identify crucial relationships between different molecular mechanisms.
To meet the new challenge of molecular phenotype discovery, in this work, we have developed an integrated online database, the Pathway And Gene Enrichment Database (PAGED), to enable comprehensive searches for disease-specific pathways, gene signatures, microRNA targets, and network modules by integrating gene-set-based prior knowledge as molecular patterns from multiple levels: the genome, transcriptome, post-transcriptome, and proteome.
The online database we developed, PAGED is by far the most comprehensive public compilation of gene sets. In its current release, PAGED contains a total of 25,242 gene sets, 61,413 genes, 20 organisms, and 1,275,560 records from five major categories. Beyond its size, the advantage of PAGED lies in the explorations of relationships between gene sets as gene-set association networks (GSANs). Using colorectal cancer expression data analysis as a case study, we demonstrate how to query this database resource to discover crucial pathways, gene signatures, and gene network modules specific to colorectal cancer functional genomics.
This integrated online database lays a foundation for developing tools beyond third-generation pathway analysis approaches on for discovering molecular phenotypes, especially for disease-associated pathway/gene-set enrichment analysis.
PMCID: PMC3439733  PMID: 23046413
5.  Pathway-GPS and SIGORA: identifying relevant pathways based on the over-representation of their gene-pair signatures 
PeerJ  2013;1:e229.
Motivation. Predominant pathway analysis approaches treat pathways as collections of individual genes and consider all pathway members as equally informative. As a result, at times spurious and misleading pathways are inappropriately identified as statistically significant, solely due to components that they share with the more relevant pathways.
Results. We introduce the concept of Pathway Gene-Pair Signatures (Pathway-GPS) as pairs of genes that, as a combination, are specific to a single pathway. We devised and implemented a novel approach to pathway analysis, Signature Over-representation Analysis (SIGORA), which focuses on the statistically significant enrichment of Pathway-GPS in a user-specified gene list of interest. In a comparative evaluation of several published datasets, SIGORA outperformed traditional methods by delivering biologically more plausible and relevant results.
Availability. An efficient implementation of SIGORA, as an R package with precompiled GPS data for several human and mouse pathway repositories is available for download from
PMCID: PMC3883547  PMID: 24432194
Systems biology; Functional analysis; Over-representation analysis; Pathway analysis; Shared components; High-throughput data
6.  A novel signaling pathway impact analysis 
Bioinformatics  2008;25(1):75-82.
Motivation: Gene expression class comparison studies may identify hundreds or thousands of genes as differentially expressed (DE) between sample groups. Gaining biological insight from the result of such experiments can be approached, for instance, by identifying the signaling pathways impacted by the observed changes. Most of the existing pathway analysis methods focus on either the number of DE genes observed in a given pathway (enrichment analysis methods), or on the correlation between the pathway genes and the class of the samples (functional class scoring methods). Both approaches treat the pathways as simple sets of genes, disregarding the complex gene interactions that these pathways are built to describe.
Results: We describe a novel signaling pathway impact analysis (SPIA) that combines the evidence obtained from the classical enrichment analysis with a novel type of evidence, which measures the actual perturbation on a given pathway under a given condition. A bootstrap procedure is used to assess the significance of the observed total pathway perturbation. Using simulations we show that the evidence derived from perturbations is independent of the pathway enrichment evidence. This allows us to calculate a global pathway significance P-value, which combines the enrichment and perturbation P-values. We illustrate the capabilities of the novel method on four real datasets. The results obtained on these data show that SPIA has better specificity and more sensitivity than several widely used pathway analysis methods.
Availability: SPIA was implemented as an R package available at
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2732297  PMID: 18990722
7.  FDR-FET: an optimizing gene set enrichment analysis method 
Gene set enrichment analysis for analyzing large profiling and screening experiments can reveal unifying biological schemes based on previously accumulated knowledge represented as “gene sets”. Most of the existing implementations use a fixed fold-change or P value cutoff to generate regulated gene lists. However, the threshold selection in most cases is arbitrary, and has a significant effect on the test outcome and interpretation of the experiment. We developed a new gene set enrichment analysis method, ie, FDR-FET, which dynamically optimizes the threshold choice and improves the sensitivity and selectivity of gene set enrichment analysis. The procedure translates experimental results into a series of regulated gene lists at multiple false discovery rate (FDR) cutoffs, and computes the P value of the overrepresentation of a gene set using a Fisher’s exact test (FET) in each of these gene lists. The lowest P value is retained to represent the significance of the gene set. We also implemented improved methods to define a more relevant global reference set for the FET. We demonstrate the validity of the method using a published microarray study of three protease inhibitors of the human immunodeficiency virus and compare the results with those from other popular gene set enrichment analysis algorithms. Our results show that combining FDR with multiple cutoffs allows us to control the error while retaining genes that increase information content. We conclude that FDR-FET can selectively identify significant affected biological processes. Our method can be used for any user-generated gene list in the area of transcriptome, proteome, and other biological and scientific applications.
PMCID: PMC3169954  PMID: 21918636
gene set enrichment analysis; false discovery rate; Fisher’s exact test; microarray profiling; protease inhibitors
8.  Testing gene set enrichment for subset of genes: Sub-GSE 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9:362.
Many methods have been developed to test the enrichment of genes related to certain phenotypes or cell states in gene sets. These approaches usually combine gene expression data with functionally related gene sets as defined in databases such as GeneOntology (GO), KEGG, or BioCarta. The results based on gene set analysis are generally more biologically interpretable, accurate and robust than the results based on individual gene analysis. However, while most available methods for gene set enrichment analysis test the enrichment of the entire gene set, it is more likely that only a subset of the genes in the gene set may be related to the phenotypes of interest.
In this paper, we develop a novel method, termed Sub-GSE, which measures the enrichment of a predefined gene set, or pathway, by testing its subsets. The application of Sub-GSE to two simulated and two real datasets shows Sub-GSE to be more sensitive than previous methods, such as GSEA, GSA, and SigPath, in detecting gene sets assiated with a phenotype of interest. This is particularly true for cases in which only a fraction of the genes in the gene set are associated with the phenotypes. Furthermore, the application of Sub-GSE to two real data sets demonstrates that it can detect more biologically meaningful gene sets than GSEA.
We developed a new method to measure the gene set enrichment. Applications to two simulated datasets and two real datasets show that this method is sensitive to the associations between gene sets and phenotype. The program Sub-GSE can be downloaded from .
PMCID: PMC2543030  PMID: 18764941
9.  COFECO: composite function annotation enriched by protein complex data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(Web Server issue):W350-W355.
COFECO is a web-based tool for a composite annotation of protein complexes, KEGG pathways and Gene Ontology (GO) terms within a class of genes and their orthologs under study. Widely used functional enrichment tools using GO and KEGG pathways create large list of annotations that make it difficult to derive consolidated information and often include over-generalized terms. The interrelationship of annotation terms can be more clearly delineated by integrating the information of physically interacting proteins with biological pathways and GO terms. COFECO has the following advanced characteristics: (i) The composite annotation sets of correlated functions and cellular processes for a given gene set can be identified in a more comprehensive and specified way by the employment of protein complex data together with GO and KEGG pathways as annotation resources. (ii) Orthology based integrative annotations among different species complement the defective annotations in an individual genome and provide the information of evolutionary conserved correlations. (iii) A term filtering feature enables users to collect the specified annotations enriched with selected function terms. (iv) A cross-comparison of annotation results between two different datasets is possible. In addition, COFECO provides a web-based GO hierarchical viewer and KEGG pathway viewer where the enrichment results can be summarized and further explored. COFECO is freely accessible at
PMCID: PMC2703949  PMID: 19429688
10.  Meta-analysis for pathway enrichment analysis when combining multiple genomic studies 
Bioinformatics  2010;26(10):1316-1323.
Motivation: Many pathway analysis (or gene set enrichment analysis) methods have been developed to identify enriched pathways under different biological states within a genomic study. As more and more microarray datasets accumulate, meta-analysis methods have also been developed to integrate information among multiple studies. Currently, most meta-analysis methods for combining genomic studies focus on biomarker detection and meta-analysis for pathway analysis has not been systematically pursued.
Results: We investigated two approaches of meta-analysis for pathway enrichment (MAPE) by combining statistical significance across studies at the gene level (MAPE_G) or at the pathway level (MAPE_P). Simulation results showed increased statistical power of meta-analysis approaches compared to a single study analysis and showed complementary advantages of MAPE_G and MAPE_P under different scenarios. We also developed an integrated method (MAPE_I) that incorporates advantages of both approaches. Comprehensive simulations and applications to real data on drug response of breast cancer cell lines and lung cancer tissues were evaluated to compare the performance of three MAPE variations. MAPE_P has the advantage of not requiring gene matching across studies. When MAPE_G and MAPE_P show complementary advantages, the hybrid version of MAPE_I is generally recommended.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2865865  PMID: 20410053
11.  Using Pathway Signatures as Means of Identifying Similarities among Microarray Experiments 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(1):e4128.
Widespread use of microarrays has generated large amounts of data, the interrogation of the public microarray repositories, identifying similarities between microarray experiments is now one of the major challenges. Approaches using defined group of genes, such as pathways and cellular networks (pathway analysis), have been proposed to improve the interpretation of microarray experiments. We propose a novel method to compare microarray experiments at the pathway level, this method consists of two steps: first, generate pathway signatures, a set of descriptors recapitulating the biologically meaningful pathways related to some clinical/biological variable of interest, second, use these signatures to interrogate microarray databases. We demonstrate that our approach provides more reliable results than with gene-based approaches. While gene-based approaches tend to suffer from bias generated by the analytical procedures employed, our pathway based method successfully groups together similar samples, independently of the experimental design. The results presented are potentially of great interest to improve the ability to query and compare experiments in public repositories of microarray data. As a matter of fact, this method can be used to retrieve data from public microarray databases and perform comparisons at the pathway level.
PMCID: PMC2610483  PMID: 19125200
12.  Testing for mean and correlation changes in microarray experiments: an application for pathway analysis 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:60.
Microarray experiments examine the change in transcript levels of tens of thousands of genes simultaneously. To derive meaningful data, biologists investigate the response of genes within specific pathways. Pathways are comprised of genes that interact to carry out a particular biological function. Existing methods for analyzing pathways focus on detecting changes in the mean or over-representation of the number of differentially expressed genes relative to the total of genes within the pathway. The issue of how to incorporate the influence of correlation among the genes is not generally addressed.
In this paper, we propose a non-parametric rank test for analyzing pathways that takes into account the correlation among the genes and compared two existing methods, Global and Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA), using two publicly available data sets. A simulation study was conducted to demonstrate the advantage of the rank test method.
The data indicate the advantages of the rank test. The method can distinguish significant changes in pathways due to either correlations or changes in the mean or both. From the simulation study the rank test out performed Global and GSEA. The greatest gain in performance was for the sample size case which makes the application of the rank test ideal for microarray experiments.
PMCID: PMC3098106  PMID: 20109181
13.  GSVA: gene set variation analysis for microarray and RNA-Seq data 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14:7.
Gene set enrichment (GSE) analysis is a popular framework for condensing information from gene expression profiles into a pathway or signature summary. The strengths of this approach over single gene analysis include noise and dimension reduction, as well as greater biological interpretability. As molecular profiling experiments move beyond simple case-control studies, robust and flexible GSE methodologies are needed that can model pathway activity within highly heterogeneous data sets.
To address this challenge, we introduce Gene Set Variation Analysis (GSVA), a GSE method that estimates variation of pathway activity over a sample population in an unsupervised manner. We demonstrate the robustness of GSVA in a comparison with current state of the art sample-wise enrichment methods. Further, we provide examples of its utility in differential pathway activity and survival analysis. Lastly, we show how GSVA works analogously with data from both microarray and RNA-seq experiments.
GSVA provides increased power to detect subtle pathway activity changes over a sample population in comparison to corresponding methods. While GSE methods are generally regarded as end points of a bioinformatic analysis, GSVA constitutes a starting point to build pathway-centric models of biology. Moreover, GSVA contributes to the current need of GSE methods for RNA-seq data. GSVA is an open source software package for R which forms part of the Bioconductor project and can be downloaded at
PMCID: PMC3618321  PMID: 23323831
14.  Protein Interaction-Based Genome-Wide Analysis of Incident Coronary Heart Disease 
Network-based approaches may leverage genome-wide association (GWA) analysis by testing for the aggregate association across several pathway members. We aimed to examine if networks of genes that represent experimentally determined protein-protein interactions are enriched in genes associated with risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Methods and Results
GWA analyses of ~700,000 SNPs in 899 incident CHD cases and 1,823 age- and sex-matched controls within the Nurses’ Health and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Studies were used to assign gene-wise p-values. A large database of protein-protein interactions (PPI) was used to assemble 8,300 unbiased protein complexes and corresponding gene-sets. Superimposed gene-wise p-values were used to rank gene-sets based on their enrichment in genes associated with CHD. After correcting for the number of complexes tested, one gene-set was overrepresented in CHD-associated genes (p-value=0.002). Centered on the beta-1-adrenergic receptor gene (ADRB1), this complex included 18 protein interaction partners that, so far, have not been identified as candidate loci for CHD. Five of the 19 genes in the top-complex are reported to be involved in abnormal cardiovascular system physiology based on knock-out mice (4-fold enrichment; p-value, Fisher’s exact test= 0.006). Ingenuity pathway analysis revealed that especially canonical pathways related to blood pressure regulation were significantly enriched in the genes from the top complex.
The integration of a GWA study with PPI data successfully identifies a set of candidate susceptibility genes for incident CHD that would have been missed in single-marker GWA analysis.
PMCID: PMC3197770  PMID: 21880673
Genetics of cardiovascular disease; acute myocardial infarction; epidemiology
15.  A BRCA1 deficient-like signature is enriched in breast cancer brain metastases and predicts DNA damage-induced poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitor sensitivity 
There is an unmet clinical need for biomarkers to identify breast cancer patients at an increased risk of developing brain metastases. The objective is to identify gene signatures and biological pathways associated with human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive (HER2+) brain metastasis.
We combined laser capture microdissection and gene expression microarrays to analyze malignant epithelium from HER2+ breast cancer brain metastases with that from HER2+ nonmetastatic primary tumors. Differential gene expression was performed including gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) using publicly available breast cancer gene expression data sets.
In a cohort of HER2+ breast cancer brain metastases, we identified a gene expression signature that anti-correlates with overexpression of BRCA1. Sequence analysis of the HER2+ brain metastases revealed no pathogenic mutations of BRCA1, and therefore the aforementioned signature was designated BRCA1 Deficient-Like (BD-L). Evaluation of an independent cohort of breast cancer metastases demonstrated that BD-L values are significantly higher in brain metastases as compared to other metastatic sites. Although the BD-L signature is present in all subtypes of breast cancer, it is significantly higher in BRCA1 mutant primary tumors as compared with sporadic breast tumors. Additionally, BD-L signature values are significantly higher in HER2-/ER- primary tumors as compared with HER2+/ER + and HER2-/ER + tumors. The BD-L signature correlates with breast cancer cell line pharmacologic response to a combination of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor and temozolomide, and the signature outperformed four published gene signatures of BRCA1/2 deficiency.
A BD-L signature is enriched in HER2+ breast cancer brain metastases without pathogenic BRCA1 mutations. Unexpectedly, elevated BD-L values are found in a subset of primary tumors across all breast cancer subtypes. Evaluation of pharmacological sensitivity in breast cancer cell lines representing all breast cancer subtypes suggests the BD-L signature may serve as a biomarker to identify sporadic breast cancer patients who might benefit from a therapeutic combination of PARP inhibitor and temozolomide and may be indicative of a dysfunctional BRCA1-associated pathway.
PMCID: PMC4053087  PMID: 24625110
16.  Concordant integrative gene set enrichment analysis of multiple large-scale two-sample expression data sets 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(Suppl 1):S6.
Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) is an important approach to the analysis of coordinate expression changes at a pathway level. Although many statistical and computational methods have been proposed for GSEA, the issue of a concordant integrative GSEA of multiple expression data sets has not been well addressed. Among different related data sets collected for the same or similar study purposes, it is important to identify pathways or gene sets with concordant enrichment.
We categorize the underlying true states of differential expression into three representative categories: no change, positive change and negative change. Due to data noise, what we observe from experiments may not indicate the underlying truth. Although these categories are not observed in practice, they can be considered in a mixture model framework. Then, we define the mathematical concept of concordant gene set enrichment and calculate its related probability based on a three-component multivariate normal mixture model. The related false discovery rate can be calculated and used to rank different gene sets.
We used three published lung cancer microarray gene expression data sets to illustrate our proposed method. One analysis based on the first two data sets was conducted to compare our result with a previous published result based on a GSEA conducted separately for each individual data set. This comparison illustrates the advantage of our proposed concordant integrative gene set enrichment analysis. Then, with a relatively new and larger pathway collection, we used our method to conduct an integrative analysis of the first two data sets and also all three data sets. Both results showed that many gene sets could be identified with low false discovery rates. A consistency between both results was also observed. A further exploration based on the KEGG cancer pathway collection showed that a majority of these pathways could be identified by our proposed method.
This study illustrates that we can improve detection power and discovery consistency through a concordant integrative analysis of multiple large-scale two-sample gene expression data sets.
PMCID: PMC4046697  PMID: 24564564
17.  Meta-Analysis of Pathway Enrichment: Combining Independent and Dependent Omics Data Sets 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89297.
A major challenge in current systems biology is the combination and integrative analysis of large data sets obtained from different high-throughput omics platforms, such as mass spectrometry based Metabolomics and Proteomics or DNA microarray or RNA-seq-based Transcriptomics. Especially in the case of non-targeted Metabolomics experiments, where it is often impossible to unambiguously map ion features from mass spectrometry analysis to metabolites, the integration of more reliable omics technologies is highly desirable. A popular method for the knowledge-based interpretation of single data sets is the (Gene) Set Enrichment Analysis. In order to combine the results from different analyses, we introduce a methodical framework for the meta-analysis of p-values obtained from Pathway Enrichment Analysis (Set Enrichment Analysis based on pathways) of multiple dependent or independent data sets from different omics platforms. For dependent data sets, e.g. obtained from the same biological samples, the framework utilizes a covariance estimation procedure based on the nonsignificant pathways in single data set enrichment analysis. The framework is evaluated and applied in the joint analysis of Metabolomics mass spectrometry and Transcriptomics DNA microarray data in the context of plant wounding. In extensive studies of simulated data set dependence, the introduced correlation could be fully reconstructed by means of the covariance estimation based on pathway enrichment. By restricting the range of p-values of pathways considered in the estimation, the overestimation of correlation, which is introduced by the significant pathways, could be reduced. When applying the proposed methods to the real data sets, the meta-analysis was shown not only to be a powerful tool to investigate the correlation between different data sets and summarize the results of multiple analyses but also to distinguish experiment-specific key pathways.
PMCID: PMC3938450  PMID: 24586671
18.  LRpath analysis reveals common pathways dysregulated via DNA methylation across cancer types 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:526.
The relative contribution of epigenetic mechanisms to carcinogenesis is not well understood, including the extent to which epigenetic dysregulation and somatic mutations target similar genes and pathways. We hypothesize that during carcinogenesis, certain pathways or biological gene sets are commonly dysregulated via DNA methylation across cancer types. The ability of our logistic regression-based gene set enrichment method to implicate important biological pathways in high-throughput data is well established.
We developed a web-based gene set enrichment application called LRpath with clustering functionality that allows for identification and comparison of pathway signatures across multiple studies. Here, we employed LRpath analysis to unravel the commonly altered pathways and other gene sets across ten cancer studies employing DNA methylation data profiled with the Illumina HumanMethylation27 BeadChip. We observed a surprising level of concordance in differential methylation across multiple cancer types. For example, among commonly hypomethylated groups, we identified immune-related functions, peptidase activity, and epidermis/keratinocyte development and differentiation. Commonly hypermethylated groups included homeobox and other DNA-binding genes, nervous system and embryonic development, and voltage-gated potassium channels. For many gene sets, we observed significant overlap in the specific subset of differentially methylated genes. Interestingly, fewer DNA repair genes were differentially methylated than expected by chance.
Clustering analysis performed with LRpath revealed tightly clustered concepts enriched for differential methylation. Several well-known cancer-related pathways were significantly affected, while others were depleted in differential methylation. We conclude that DNA methylation changes in cancer tend to target a subset of the known cancer pathways affected by genetic aberrations.
PMCID: PMC3505188  PMID: 23033966
19.  GOMA: functional enrichment analysis tool based on GO modules 
Chinese Journal of Cancer  2013;32(4):195-204.
Analyzing the function of gene sets is a critical step in interpreting the results of high-throughput experiments in systems biology. A variety of enrichment analysis tools have been developed in recent years, but most output a long list of significantly enriched terms that are often redundant, making it difficult to extract the most meaningful functions. In this paper, we present GOMA, a novel enrichment analysis method based on the new concept of enriched functional Gene Ontology (GO) modules. With this method, we systematically revealed functional GO modules, i.e., groups of functionally similar GO terms, via an optimization model and then ranked them by enrichment scores. Our new method simplifies enrichment analysis results by reducing redundancy, thereby preventing inconsistent enrichment results among functionally similar terms and providing more biologically meaningful results.
PMCID: PMC3845568  PMID: 23237213
GO enrichment analysis; GO modules; functional redundancy; GO network; GO relationships
20.  PathNet: a tool for pathway analysis using topological information 
Identification of canonical pathways through enrichment of differentially expressed genes in a given pathway is a widely used method for interpreting gene lists generated from high-throughput experimental studies. However, most algorithms treat pathways as sets of genes, disregarding any inter- and intra-pathway connectivity information, and do not provide insights beyond identifying lists of pathways.
We developed an algorithm (PathNet) that utilizes the connectivity information in canonical pathway descriptions to help identify study-relevant pathways and characterize non-obvious dependencies and connections among pathways using gene expression data. PathNet considers both the differential expression of genes and their pathway neighbors to strengthen the evidence that a pathway is implicated in the biological conditions characterizing the experiment. As an adjunct to this analysis, PathNet uses the connectivity of the differentially expressed genes among all pathways to score pathway contextual associations and statistically identify biological relations among pathways. In this study, we used PathNet to identify biologically relevant results in two Alzheimer’s disease microarray datasets, and compared its performance with existing methods. Importantly, PathNet identified de-regulation of the ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis pathway as an important component in Alzheimer’s disease progression, despite the absence of this pathway in the standard enrichment analyses.
PathNet is a novel method for identifying enrichment and association between canonical pathways in the context of gene expression data. It takes into account topological information present in pathways to reveal biological information. PathNet is available as an R workspace image from
PMCID: PMC3563509  PMID: 23006764
Canonical pathways; Pathway enrichment; Pathway association; Pathway interaction; Pathway topology
21.  Signature pathways identified from gene expression profiles in the human uterine cervix before and after spontaneous term parturition 
This study aimed to discover ‘signature pathways’ characterizing biological processes based on genes differentially expressed in the uterine cervix before and after spontaneous labor.
Study Design
The cervical transcriptome was previously characterized from biopsies taken before and after term labor. Pathway analysis was used to study the differentially expressed genes based on two gene-to-pathway annotation databases (KEGG and Metacore™). Over-represented and highly impacted pathways and connectivity nodes were identified.
Fifty-two pathways in the Metacore™ database were significantly enriched in differentially expressed genes. Three of the top 5 pathways were known to be involved in cervical remodeling.Two novel pathways were: plasmin signaling and plasminogen activator urokinase (PLAU) signaling. The same analysis in the KEGG database identified 4 significant pathways, of which impact analysis confirmed. Multiple nodes providing connectivity within the plasmin and PLAU signaling pathways were identified..
Three strategies for pathway analysis were consistent in their identification of novel, unexpected as well as expected networks, suggesting that this approach is both valid and effective for the elucidation of biological mechanisms involved in cervical dilation and remodeling.
PMCID: PMC2556276  PMID: 17826407
cervix; cervical dilation; cervical remodeling; labor; microarray; gene signature network; pathway analysis; plasmin; systems biology; parturition
22.  Association Between a Prognostic Gene Signature and Functional Gene Sets 
The development of expression-based gene signatures for predicting prognosis or class membership is a popular and challenging task. Besides their stringent validation, signatures need a functional interpretation and must be placed in a biological context. Popular tools such as Gene Set Enrichment have drawbacks because they are restricted to annotated genes and are unable to capture the information hidden in the signature’s non-annotated genes.
We propose concepts to relate a signature with functional gene sets like pathways or Gene Ontology categories. The connection between single signature genes and a specific pathway is explored by hierarchical variable selection and gene association networks. The risk score derived from an individual patient’s signature is related to expression patterns of pathways and Gene Ontology categories. Global tests are useful for these tasks, and they adjust for other factors. GlobalAncova is used to explore the effect on gene expression in specific functional groups from the interaction of the score and selected mutations in the patient’s genome.
We apply the proposed methods to an expression data set and a corresponding gene signature for predicting survival in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The example demonstrates strong relations between the signature and cancer-related pathways. The signature-based risk score was found to be associated with development-related biological processes.
Many authors interpret the functional aspects of a gene signature by linking signature genes to pathways or relevant functional gene groups. The method of gene set enrichment is preferred to annotating signature genes to specific Gene Ontology categories. The strategies proposed in this paper go beyond the restriction of annotation and deepen the insights into the biological mechanisms reflected in the information given by a signature.
PMCID: PMC2735947  PMID: 19812786
23.  Discovering causal signaling pathways through gene-expression patterns 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(Web Server issue):W109-W117.
High-throughput gene-expression studies result in lists of differentially expressed genes. Most current meta-analyses of these gene lists include searching for significant membership of the translated proteins in various signaling pathways. However, such membership enrichment algorithms do not provide insight into which pathways caused the genes to be differentially expressed in the first place. Here, we present an intuitive approach for discovering upstream signaling pathways responsible for regulating these differentially expressed genes. We identify consistently regulated signature genes specific for signal transduction pathways from a panel of single-pathway perturbation experiments. An algorithm that detects overrepresentation of these signature genes in a gene group of interest is used to infer the signaling pathway responsible for regulation. We expose our novel resource and algorithm through a web server called SPEED: Signaling Pathway Enrichment using Experimental Data sets. SPEED can be freely accessed at
PMCID: PMC2896193  PMID: 20494976
24.  Incorporating Information of microRNAs into Pathway Analysis in a Genome-Wide Association Study of Bipolar Disorder 
Frontiers in Genetics  2012;3:293.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are known to be important post-transcriptional regulators that are involved in the etiology of complex psychiatric traits. The present study aimed to incorporate miRNAs information into pathway analysis using a genome-wide association dataset to identify relevant biological pathways for bipolar disorder (BPD). We selected psychiatric- and neurological-associated miRNAs (N = 157) from PhenomiR database. The miRNA target genes (miTG) predictions were obtained from Canonical pathways (N = 4,051) were downloaded from the Molecule Signature Database. We employed a novel weighting scheme for miTGs in pathway analysis using methods of gene set enrichment analysis and sum-statistic. Under four statistical scenarios, 38 significantly enriched pathways (P-value < 0.01 after multiple testing correction) were identified for the risk of developing BPD, including pathways of ion channels associated (e.g., gated channel activity, ion transmembrane transporter activity, and ion channel activity) and nervous related biological processes (e.g., nervous system development, cytoskeleton, and neuroactive ligand receptor interaction). Among them, 19 were identified only when the weighting scheme was applied. Many miRNA-targeted genes were functionally related to ion channels, collagen, and axonal growth and guidance that have been suggested to be associated with BPD previously. Some of these genes are linked to the regulation of miRNA machinery in the literature. Our findings provide support for the potential involvement of miRNAs in the psychopathology of BPD. Further investigations to elucidate the functions and mechanisms of identified candidate pathways are needed.
PMCID: PMC3524550  PMID: 23264780
microRNA; bipolar disorder; pathway analysis; genome-wide association; ion channel
25.  Integrated Pathway Clusters with Coherent Biological Themes for Target Prioritisation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99030.
Prioritising candidate genes for further experimental characterisation is an essential, yet challenging task in biomedical research. One way of achieving this goal is to identify specific biological themes that are enriched within the gene set of interest to obtain insights into the biological phenomena under study. Biological pathway data have been particularly useful in identifying functional associations of genes and/or gene sets. However, biological pathway information as compiled in varied repositories often differs in scope and content, preventing a more effective and comprehensive characterisation of gene sets. Here we describe a new approach to constructing biologically coherent gene sets from pathway data in major public repositories and employing them for functional analysis of large gene sets. We first revealed significant overlaps in gene content between different pathways and then defined a clustering method based on the shared gene content and the similarity of gene overlap patterns. We established the biological relevance of the constructed pathway clusters using independent quantitative measures and we finally demonstrated the effectiveness of the constructed pathway clusters in comparative functional enrichment analysis of gene sets associated with diverse human diseases gathered from the literature. The pathway clusters and gene mappings have been integrated into the TargetMine data warehouse and are likely to provide a concise, manageable and biologically relevant means of functional analysis of gene sets and to facilitate candidate gene prioritisation.
PMCID: PMC4053319  PMID: 24918583

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