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1.  Optimized Position Weight Matrices in Prediction of Novel Putative Binding Sites for Transcription Factors in the Drosophila melanogaster Genome 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e68712.
Position weight matrices (PWMs) have become a tool of choice for the identification of transcription factor binding sites in DNA sequences. DNA-binding proteins often show degeneracy in their binding requirement and thus the overall binding specificity of many proteins is unknown and remains an active area of research. Although existing PWMs are more reliable predictors than consensus string matching, they generally result in a high number of false positive hits. Our previous study introduced a promising approach to PWM refinement in which known motifs are used to computationally mine putative binding sites directly from aligned promoter regions using composition of similar sites. In the present study, we extended this technique originally tested on single examples of transcription factors (TFs) and showed its capability to optimize PWM performance to predict new binding sites in the fruit fly genome. We propose refined PWMs in mono- and dinucleotide versions similarly computed for a large variety of transcription factors of Drosophila melanogaster. Along with the addition of many auxiliary sites the optimization includes variation of the PWM motif length, the binding sites location on the promoters and the PWM score threshold. To assess the predictive performance of the refined PWMs we compared them to conventional TRANSFAC and JASPAR sources. The results have been verified using performed tests and literature review. Overall, the refined PWMs containing putative sites derived from real promoter content processed using optimized parameters had better general accuracy than conventional PWMs.
PMCID: PMC3735551  PMID: 23936309
2.  Assessment of clusters of transcription factor binding sites in relationship to human promoter, CpG islands and gene expression 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:16.
Gene expression is regulated mainly by transcription factors (TFs) that interact with regulatory cis-elements on DNA sequences. To identify functional regulatory elements, computer searching can predict TF binding sites (TFBS) using position weight matrices (PWMs) that represent positional base frequencies of collected experimentally determined TFBS. A disadvantage of this approach is the large output of results for genomic DNA. One strategy to identify genuine TFBS is to utilize local concentrations of predicted TFBS. It is unclear whether there is a general tendency for TFBS to cluster at promoter regions, although this is the case for certain TFBS. Also unclear is the identification of TFs that have TFBS concentrated in promoters and to what level this occurs. This study hopes to answer some of these questions.
We developed the cluster score measure to evaluate the correlation between predicted TFBS clusters and promoter sequences for each PWM. Non-promoter sequences were used as a control. Using the cluster score, we identified a PWM group called PWM-PCP, in which TFBS clusters positively correlate with promoters, and another PWM group called PWM-NCP, in which TFBS clusters negatively correlate with promoters. The PWM-PCP group comprises 47% of the 199 vertebrate PWMs, while the PWM-NCP group occupied 11 percent. After reducing the effect of CpG islands (CGI) against the clusters using partial correlation coefficients among three properties (promoter, CGI and predicted TFBS cluster), we identified two PWM groups including those strongly correlated with CGI and those not correlated with CGI.
Not all PWMs predict TFBS correlated with human promoter sequences. Two main PWM groups were identified: (1) those that show TFBS clustered in promoters associated with CGI, and (2) those that show TFBS clustered in promoters independent of CGI. Assessment of PWM matches will allow more positive interpretation of TFBS in regulatory regions.
PMCID: PMC375527  PMID: 15053842
promoter; tissue-specific gene expression; position weight matrix; regulatory motif
3.  Increasing Coverage of Transcription Factor Position Weight Matrices through Domain-level Homology 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42779.
Transcription factor-DNA interactions, central to cellular regulation and control, are commonly described by position weight matrices (PWMs). These matrices are frequently used to predict transcription factor binding sites in regulatory regions of DNA to complement and guide further experimental investigation. The DNA sequence preferences of transcription factors, encoded in PWMs, are dictated primarily by select residues within the DNA binding domain(s) that interact directly with DNA. Therefore, the DNA binding properties of homologous transcription factors with identical DNA binding domains may be characterized by PWMs derived from different species. Accordingly, we have implemented a fully automated domain-level homology searching method for identical DNA binding sequences.
By applying the domain-level homology search to transcription factors with existing PWMs in the JASPAR and TRANSFAC databases, we were able to significantly increase coverage in terms of the total number of PWMs associated with a given species, assign PWMs to transcription factors that did not previously have any associations, and increase the number of represented species with PWMs over an order of magnitude. Additionally, using protein binding microarray (PBM) data, we have validated the domain-level method by demonstrating that transcription factor pairs with matching DNA binding domains exhibit comparable DNA binding specificity predictions to transcription factor pairs with completely identical sequences.
The increased coverage achieved herein demonstrates the potential for more thorough species-associated investigation of protein-DNA interactions using existing resources. The PWM scanning results highlight the challenging nature of transcription factors that contain multiple DNA binding domains, as well as the impact of motif discovery on the ability to predict DNA binding properties. The method is additionally suitable for identifying domain-level homology mappings to enable utilization of additional information sources in the study of transcription factors. The domain-level homology search method, resulting PWM mappings, web-based user interface, and web API are publicly available at
PMCID: PMC3428306  PMID: 22952610
4.  A General Pairwise Interaction Model Provides an Accurate Description of In Vivo Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99015.
The identification of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on genomic DNA is of crucial importance for understanding and predicting regulatory elements in gene networks. TFBS motifs are commonly described by Position Weight Matrices (PWMs), in which each DNA base pair contributes independently to the transcription factor (TF) binding. However, this description ignores correlations between nucleotides at different positions, and is generally inaccurate: analysing fly and mouse in vivo ChIPseq data, we show that in most cases the PWM model fails to reproduce the observed statistics of TFBSs. To overcome this issue, we introduce the pairwise interaction model (PIM), a generalization of the PWM model. The model is based on the principle of maximum entropy and explicitly describes pairwise correlations between nucleotides at different positions, while being otherwise as unconstrained as possible. It is mathematically equivalent to considering a TF-DNA binding energy that depends additively on each nucleotide identity at all positions in the TFBS, like the PWM model, but also additively on pairs of nucleotides. We find that the PIM significantly improves over the PWM model, and even provides an optimal description of TFBS statistics within statistical noise. The PIM generalizes previous approaches to interdependent positions: it accounts for co-variation of two or more base pairs, and predicts secondary motifs, while outperforming multiple-motif models consisting of mixtures of PWMs. We analyse the structure of pairwise interactions between nucleotides, and find that they are sparse and dominantly located between consecutive base pairs in the flanking region of TFBS. Nonetheless, interactions between pairs of non-consecutive nucleotides are found to play a significant role in the obtained accurate description of TFBS statistics. The PIM is computationally tractable, and provides a general framework that should be useful for describing and predicting TFBSs beyond PWMs.
PMCID: PMC4057186  PMID: 24926895
5.  Jaccard index based similarity measure to compare transcription factor binding site models 
Positional weight matrix (PWM) remains the most popular for quantification of transcription factor (TF) binding. PWM supplied with a score threshold defines a set of putative transcription factor binding sites (TFBS), thus providing a TFBS model.
TF binding DNA fragments obtained by different experimental methods usually give similar but not identical PWMs. This is also common for different TFs from the same structural family. Thus it is often necessary to measure the similarity between PWMs. The popular tools compare PWMs directly using matrix elements. Yet, for log-odds PWMs, negative elements do not contribute to the scores of highly scoring TFBS and thus may be different without affecting the sets of the best recognized binding sites. Moreover, the two TFBS sets recognized by a given pair of PWMs can be more or less different depending on the score thresholds.
We propose a practical approach for comparing two TFBS models, each consisting of a PWM and the respective scoring threshold. The proposed measure is a variant of the Jaccard index between two TFBS sets. The measure defines a metric space for TFBS models of all finite lengths. The algorithm can compare TFBS models constructed using substantially different approaches, like PWMs with raw positional counts and log-odds. We present the efficient software implementation: MACRO-APE (MAtrix CompaRisOn by Approximate P-value Estimation).
MACRO-APE can be effectively used to compute the Jaccard index based similarity for two TFBS models. A two-pass scanning algorithm is presented to scan a given collection of PWMs for PWMs similar to a given query.
Availability and implementation
MACRO-APE is implemented in ruby 1.9; software including source code and a manual is freely available at and in supplementary materials.
PMCID: PMC3851813  PMID: 24074225
Transcription factor binding site; TFBS; Transcription factor binding site model; Binding motif; Jaccard similarity; Position weight matrix; PWM; P-value; Position specific frequency matrix; PSFM; Macroape
6.  Creating PWMs of transcription factors using 3D structure-based computation of protein-DNA free binding energies 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:225.
Knowledge of transcription factor-DNA binding patterns is crucial for understanding gene transcription. Numerous DNA-binding proteins are annotated as transcription factors in the literature, however, for many of them the corresponding DNA-binding motifs remain uncharacterized.
The position weight matrices (PWMs) of transcription factors from different structural classes have been determined using a knowledge-based statistical potential. The scoring function calibrated against crystallographic data on protein-DNA contacts recovered PWMs of various members of widely studied transcription factor families such as p53 and NF-κB. Where it was possible, extensive comparison to experimental binding affinity data and other physical models was made. Although the p50p50, p50RelB, and p50p65 dimers belong to the same family, particular differences in their PWMs were detected, thereby suggesting possibly different in vivo binding modes. The PWMs of p63 and p73 were computed on the basis of homology modeling and their performance was studied using upstream sequences of 85 p53/p73-regulated human genes. Interestingly, about half of the p63 and p73 hits reported by the Match algorithm in the altogether 126 promoters lay more than 2 kb upstream of the corresponding transcription start sites, which deviates from the common assumption that most regulatory sites are located more proximal to the TSS. The fact that in most of the cases the binding sites of p63 and p73 did not overlap with the p53 sites suggests that p63 and p73 could influence the p53 transcriptional activity cooperatively. The newly computed p50p50 PWM recovered 5 more experimental binding sites than the corresponding TRANSFAC matrix, while both PWMs showed comparable receiver operator characteristics.
A novel algorithm was developed to calculate position weight matrices from protein-DNA complex structures. The proposed algorithm was extensively validated against experimental data. The method was further combined with Homology Modeling to obtain PWMs of factors for which crystallographic complexes with DNA are not yet available. The performance of PWMs obtained in this work in comparison to traditionally constructed matrices demonstrates that the structure-based approach presents a promising alternative to experimental determination of transcription factor binding properties.
PMCID: PMC2879287  PMID: 20438625
7.  A DNA shape-based regulatory score improves position-weight matrix-based recognition of transcription factor binding sites 
Bioinformatics  2015;31(21):3445-3450.
Motivation: The position-weight matrix (PWM) is a useful representation of a transcription factor binding site (TFBS) sequence pattern because the PWM can be estimated from a small number of representative TFBS sequences. However, because the PWM probability model assumes independence between individual nucleotide positions, the PWMs for some TFs poorly discriminate binding sites from non-binding-sites that have similar sequence content. Since the local three-dimensional DNA structure (‘shape’) is a determinant of TF binding specificity and since DNA shape has a significant sequence-dependence, we combined DNA shape-derived features into a TF-generalized regulatory score and tested whether the score could improve PWM-based discrimination of TFBS from non-binding-sites.
Results: We compared a traditional PWM model to a model that combines the PWM with a DNA shape feature-based regulatory potential score, for accuracy in detecting binding sites for 75 vertebrate transcription factors. The PWM + shape model was more accurate than the PWM-only model, for 45% of TFs tested, with no significant loss of accuracy for the remaining TFs.
Availability and implementation: The shape-based model is available as an open-source R package at that is archived on the GitHub software repository at
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC4838056  PMID: 26130577
8.  Computational technique for improvement of the position-weight matrices for the DNA/protein binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(7):2290-2301.
Position-weight matrices (PWMs) are broadly used to locate transcription factor binding sites in DNA sequences. The majority of existing PWMs provide a low level of both sensitivity and specificity. We present a new computational algorithm, a modification of the Staden–Bucher approach, that improves the PWM. We applied the proposed technique on the PWM of the GC-box, binding site for Sp1. The comparison of old and new PWMs shows that the latter increase both sensitivity and specificity. The statistical parameters of GC-box distribution in promoter regions and in the human genome, as well as in each chromosome, are presented. The majority of commonly used PWMs are the 4-row mononucleotide matrices, although 16-row dinucleotide matrices are known to be more informative. The algorithm efficiently determines the 16-row matrices and preliminary results show that such matrices provide better results than 4-row matrices.
PMCID: PMC1084321  PMID: 15849315
9.  Effective transcription factor binding site prediction using a combination of optimization, a genetic algorithm and discriminant analysis to capture distant interactions 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:481.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2265442  PMID: 18093302
10.  Dinucleotide Weight Matrices for Predicting Transcription Factor Binding Sites: Generalizing the Position Weight Matrix 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9722.
Identifying transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) in silico is key in understanding gene regulation. TFBS are string patterns that exhibit some variability, commonly modelled as “position weight matrices” (PWMs). Though convenient, the PWM has significant limitations, in particular the assumed independence of positions within the binding motif; and predictions based on PWMs are usually not very specific to known functional sites. Analysis here on binding sites in yeast suggests that correlation of dinucleotides is not limited to near-neighbours, but can extend over considerable gaps.
Methodology/Principal Findings
I describe a straightforward generalization of the PWM model, that considers frequencies of dinucleotides instead of individual nucleotides. Unlike previous efforts, this method considers all dinucleotides within an extended binding region, and does not make an attempt to determine a priori the significance of particular dinucleotide correlations. I describe how to use a “dinucleotide weight matrix” (DWM) to predict binding sites, dealing in particular with the complication that its entries are not independent probabilities. Benchmarks show, for many factors, a dramatic improvement over PWMs in precision of predicting known targets. In most cases, significant further improvement arises by extending the commonly defined “core motifs” by about 10bp on either side. Though this flanking sequence shows no strong motif at the nucleotide level, the predictive power of the dinucleotide model suggests that the “signature” in DNA sequence of protein-binding affinity extends beyond the core protein-DNA contact region.
While computationally more demanding and slower than PWM-based approaches, this dinucleotide method is straightforward, both conceptually and in implementation, and can serve as a basis for future improvements.
PMCID: PMC2842295  PMID: 20339533
11.  Tree-Based Position Weight Matrix Approach to Model Transcription Factor Binding Site Profiles 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24210.
Most of the position weight matrix (PWM) based bioinformatics methods developed to predict transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) assume each nucleotide in the sequence motif contributes independently to the interaction between protein and DNA sequence, usually producing high false positive predictions. The increasing availability of TF enrichment profiles from recent ChIP-Seq methodology facilitates the investigation of dependent structure and accurate prediction of TFBSs. We develop a novel Tree-based PWM (TPWM) approach to accurately model the interaction between TF and its binding site. The whole tree-structured PWM could be considered as a mixture of different conditional-PWMs. We propose a discriminative approach, called TPD (TPWM based Discriminative Approach), to construct the TPWM from the ChIP-Seq data with a pre-existing PWM. To achieve the maximum discriminative power between the positive and negative datasets, the cutoff value is determined based on the Matthew Correlation Coefficient (MCC). The resulting TPWMs are evaluated with respect to accuracy on extensive synthetic datasets. We then apply our TPWM discriminative approach on several real ChIP-Seq datasets to refine the current TFBS models stored in the TRANSFAC database. Experiments on both the simulated and real ChIP-Seq data show that the proposed method starting from existing PWM has consistently better performance than existing tools in detecting the TFBSs. The improved accuracy is the result of modelling the complete dependent structure of the motifs and better prediction of true positive rate. The findings could lead to better understanding of the mechanisms of TF-DNA interactions.
PMCID: PMC3166302  PMID: 21912677
12.  The Next Generation of Transcription Factor Binding Site Prediction 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(9):e1003214.
Finding where transcription factors (TFs) bind to the DNA is of key importance to decipher gene regulation at a transcriptional level. Classically, computational prediction of TF binding sites (TFBSs) is based on basic position weight matrices (PWMs) which quantitatively score binding motifs based on the observed nucleotide patterns in a set of TFBSs for the corresponding TF. Such models make the strong assumption that each nucleotide participates independently in the corresponding DNA-protein interaction and do not account for flexible length motifs. We introduce transcription factor flexible models (TFFMs) to represent TF binding properties. Based on hidden Markov models, TFFMs are flexible, and can model both position interdependence within TFBSs and variable length motifs within a single dedicated framework. The availability of thousands of experimentally validated DNA-TF interaction sequences from ChIP-seq allows for the generation of models that perform as well as PWMs for stereotypical TFs and can improve performance for TFs with flexible binding characteristics. We present a new graphical representation of the motifs that convey properties of position interdependence. TFFMs have been assessed on ChIP-seq data sets coming from the ENCODE project, revealing that they can perform better than both PWMs and the dinucleotide weight matrix extension in discriminating ChIP-seq from background sequences. Under the assumption that ChIP-seq signal values are correlated with the affinity of the TF-DNA binding, we find that TFFM scores correlate with ChIP-seq peak signals. Moreover, using available TF-DNA affinity measurements for the Max TF, we demonstrate that TFFMs constructed from ChIP-seq data correlate with published experimentally measured DNA-binding affinities. Finally, TFFMs allow for the straightforward computation of an integrated TF occupancy score across a sequence. These results demonstrate the capacity of TFFMs to accurately model DNA-protein interactions, while providing a single unified framework suitable for the next generation of TFBS prediction.
Author Summary
Transcription factors are critical proteins for sequence-specific control of transcriptional regulation. Finding where these proteins bind to DNA is of key importance for global efforts to decipher the complex mechanisms of gene regulation. Greater understanding of the regulation of transcription promises to improve human genetic analysis by specifying critical gene components that have eluded investigators. Classically, computational prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) is based on models giving weights to each nucleotide at each position. We introduce a novel statistical model for the prediction of TFBS tolerant of a broader range of TFBS configurations than can be conveniently accommodated by existing methods. The new models are designed to address the confounding properties of nucleotide composition, inter-positional sequence dependence and variable lengths (e.g. variable spacing between half-sites) observed in the more comprehensive experimental data now emerging. The new models generate scores consistent with DNA-protein affinities measured experimentally and can be represented graphically, retaining desirable attributes of past methods. It demonstrates the capacity of the new approach to accurately assess DNA-protein interactions. With the rich experimental data generated from chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, a greater diversity of TFBS properties has emerged that can now be accommodated within a single predictive approach.
PMCID: PMC3764009  PMID: 24039567
13.  Modeling the specificity of protein-DNA interactions 
Quantitative biology  2013;1(2):115-130.
The specificity of protein-DNA interactions is most commonly modeled using position weight matrices (PWMs). First introduced in 1982, they have been adapted to many new types of data and many different approaches have been developed to determine the parameters of the PWM. New high-throughput technologies provide a large amount of data rapidly and offer an unprecedented opportunity to determine accurately the specificities of many transcription factors (TFs). But taking full advantage of the new data requires advanced algorithms that take into account the biophysical processes involved in generating the data. The new large datasets can also aid in determining when the PWM model is inadequate and must be extended to provide accurate predictions of binding sites. This article provides a general mathematical description of a PWM and how it is used to score potential binding sites, a brief history of the approaches that have been developed and the types of data that are used with an emphasis on algorithms that we have developed for analyzing high-throughput datasets from several new technologies. It also describes extensions that can be added when the simple PWM model is inadequate and further enhancements that may be necessary. It briefly describes some applications of PWMs in the discovery and modeling of in vivo regulatory networks.
PMCID: PMC4101922  PMID: 25045190
14.  DBD2BS: connecting a DNA-binding protein with its binding sites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W173-W179.
By binding to short and highly conserved DNA sequences in genomes, DNA-binding proteins initiate, enhance or repress biological processes. Accurately identifying such binding sites, often represented by position weight matrices (PWMs), is an important step in understanding the control mechanisms of cells. When given coordinates of a DNA-binding domain (DBD) bound with DNA, a potential function can be used to estimate the change of binding affinity after base substitutions, where the changes can be summarized as a PWM. This technique provides an effective alternative when the chromatin immunoprecipitation data are unavailable for PWM inference. To facilitate the procedure of predicting PWMs based on protein–DNA complexes or even structures of the unbound state, the web server, DBD2BS, is presented in this study. The DBD2BS uses an atom-level knowledge-based potential function to predict PWMs characterizing the sequences to which the query DBD structure can bind. For unbound queries, a list of 1066 DBD–DNA complexes (including 1813 protein chains) is compiled for use as templates for synthesizing bound structures. The DBD2BS provides users with an easy-to-use interface for visualizing the PWMs predicted based on different templates and the spatial relationships of the query protein, the DBDs and the DNAs. The DBD2BS is the first attempt to predict PWMs of DBDs from unbound structures rather than from bound ones. This approach increases the number of existing protein structures that can be exploited when analyzing protein–DNA interactions. In a recent study, the authors showed that the kernel adopted by the DBD2BS can generate PWMs consistent with those obtained from the experimental data. The use of DBD2BS to predict PWMs can be incorporated with sequence-based methods to discover binding sites in genome-wide studies.
Available at:,, and
PMCID: PMC3394304  PMID: 22693214
15.  A Structural-Based Strategy for Recognition of Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52460.
Scanning through genomes for potential transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is becoming increasingly important in this post-genomic era. The position weight matrix (PWM) is the standard representation of TFBSs utilized when scanning through sequences for potential binding sites. However, many transcription factor (TF) motifs are short and highly degenerate, and methods utilizing PWMs to scan for sites are plagued by false positives. Furthermore, many important TFs do not have well-characterized PWMs, making identification of potential binding sites even more difficult. One approach to the identification of sites for these TFs has been to use the 3D structure of the TF to predict the DNA structure around the TF and then to generate a PWM from the predicted 3D complex structure. However, this approach is dependent on the similarity of the predicted structure to the native structure. We introduce here a novel approach to identify TFBSs utilizing structure information that can be applied to TFs without characterized PWMs, as long as a 3D complex structure (TF/DNA) exists. This approach utilizes an energy function that is uniquely trained on each structure. Our approach leads to increased prediction accuracy and robustness compared with those using a more general energy function. The software is freely available upon request.
PMCID: PMC3540023  PMID: 23320072
16.  Flanking sequence context-dependent transcription factor binding in early Drosophila development 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14:298.
Gene expression in the Drosophila embryo is controlled by functional interactions between a large network of protein transcription factors (TFs) and specific sequences in DNA cis-regulatory modules (CRMs). The binding site sequences for any TF can be experimentally determined and represented in a position weight matrix (PWM). PWMs can then be used to predict the location of TF binding sites in other regions of the genome, although there are limitations to this approach as currently implemented.
In this proof-of-principle study, we analyze 127 CRMs and focus on four TFs that control transcription of target genes along the anterio-posterior axis of the embryo early in development. For all four of these TFs, there is some degree of conserved flanking sequence that extends beyond the predicted binding regions. A potential role for these conserved flanking sequences may be to enhance the specificity of TF binding, as the abundance of these sequences is greatly diminished when we examine only predicted high-affinity binding sites.
Expanding PWMs to include sequence context-dependence will increase the information content in PWMs and facilitate a more efficient functional identification and dissection of CRMs.
PMCID: PMC3851692  PMID: 24093548
Transcription factor; Binding site; Position weight matrix; Enhancer; Cis-regulatory module; Drosophila
17.  PiDNA: predicting protein–DNA interactions with structural models 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(Web Server issue):W523-W530.
Predicting binding sites of a transcription factor in the genome is an important, but challenging, issue in studying gene regulation. In the past decade, a large number of protein–DNA co-crystallized structures available in the Protein Data Bank have facilitated the understanding of interacting mechanisms between transcription factors and their binding sites. Recent studies have shown that both physics-based and knowledge-based potential functions can be applied to protein–DNA complex structures to deliver position weight matrices (PWMs) that are consistent with the experimental data. To further use the available structural models, the proposed Web server, PiDNA, aims at first constructing reliable PWMs by applying an atomic-level knowledge-based scoring function on numerous in silico mutated complex structures, and then using the PWM constructed by the structure models with small energy changes to predict the interaction between proteins and DNA sequences. With PiDNA, the users can easily predict the relative preference of all the DNA sequences with limited mutations from the native sequence co-crystallized in the model in a single run. More predictions on sequences with unlimited mutations can be realized by additional requests or file uploading. Three types of information can be downloaded after prediction: (i) the ranked list of mutated sequences, (ii) the PWM constructed by the favourable mutated structures, and (iii) any mutated protein–DNA complex structure models specified by the user. This study first shows that the constructed PWMs are similar to the annotated PWMs collected from databases or literature. Second, the prediction accuracy of PiDNA in detecting relatively high-specificity sites is evaluated by comparing the ranked lists against in vitro experiments from protein-binding microarrays. Finally, PiDNA is shown to be able to select the experimentally validated binding sites from 10 000 random sites with high accuracy. With PiDNA, the users can design biological experiments based on the predicted sequence specificity and/or request mutated structure models for further protein design. As well, it is expected that PiDNA can be incorporated with chromatin immunoprecipitation data to refine large-scale inference of in vivo protein–DNA interactions. PiDNA is available at:
PMCID: PMC3692134  PMID: 23703214
18.  Application of experimentally verified transcription factor binding sites models for computational analysis of ChIP-Seq data 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):80.
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.
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.
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.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-80) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4234207  PMID: 24472686
ChIP-Seq; EMSA; Transcription factor binding sites; FoxA; SiteGA; PWM; Transcription factor binding model; Dinucleotide frequencies
19.  An approach to identify over-represented cis-elements in related sequences 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(7):1995-2005.
Computational identification of transcription factor binding sites is an important research area of computational biology. Positional weight matrix (PWM) is a model to describe the sequence pattern of binding sites. Usually, transcription factor binding sites prediction methods based on PWMs require user-defined thresholds. The arbitrary threshold and also the relatively low specificity of the algorithm prevent the result of such an analysis from being properly interpreted. In this study, a method was developed to identify over-represented cis-elements with PWM-based similarity scores. Three sets of closely related promoters were analyzed, and only over- represented motifs with high PWM similarity scores were reported. The thresholds to evaluate the similarity scores to the PWMs of putative transcription factors binding sites can also be automatically determined during the analysis, which can also be used in further research with the same PWMs. The online program is available on the website:∼zhengjsh/OTFBS/.
PMCID: PMC152803  PMID: 12655017
20.  Efficient and accurate P-value computation for Position Weight Matrices 
Position Weight Matrices (PWMs) are probabilistic representations of signals in sequences. They are widely used to model approximate patterns in DNA or in protein sequences. The usage of PWMs needs as a prerequisite to knowing the statistical significance of a word according to its score. This is done by defining the P-value of a score, which is the probability that the background model can achieve a score larger than or equal to the observed value. This gives rise to the following problem: Given a P-value, find the corresponding score threshold. Existing methods rely on dynamic programming or probability generating functions. For many examples of PWMs, they fail to give accurate results in a reasonable amount of time.
The contribution of this paper is two fold. First, we study the theoretical complexity of the problem, and we prove that it is NP-hard. Then, we describe a novel algorithm that solves the P-value problem efficiently. The main idea is to use a series of discretized score distributions that improves the final result step by step until some convergence criterion is met. Moreover, the algorithm is capable of calculating the exact P-value without any error, even for matrices with non-integer coefficient values. The same approach is also used to devise an accurate algorithm for the reverse problem: finding the P-value for a given score. Both methods are implemented in a software called TFM-PVALUE, that is freely available.
We have tested TFM-PVALUE on a large set of PWMs representing transcription factor binding sites. Experimental results show that it achieves better performance in terms of computational time and precision than existing tools.
PMCID: PMC2238751  PMID: 18072973
21.  CSI-Tree: a regression tree approach for modeling binding properties of DNA-binding molecules based on cognate site identification (CSI) data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(10):3171-3184.
The identification and characterization of binding sites of DNA-binding molecules, including transcription factors (TFs), is a critical problem at the interface of chemistry, biology and molecular medicine. The Cognate Site Identification (CSI) array is a high-throughput microarray platform for measuring comprehensive recognition profiles of DNA-binding molecules. This technique produces datasets that are useful not only for identifying binding sites of previously uncharacterized TFs but also for elucidating dependencies, both local and nonlocal, between the nucleotides at different positions of the recognition sites. We have developed a regression tree technique, CSI-Tree, for exploring the spectrum of binding sites of DNA-binding molecules. Our approach constructs regression trees utilizing the CSI data of unaligned sequences. The resulting model partitions the binding spectrum into homogeneous regions of position specific nucleotide effects. Each homogeneous partition is then summarized by a position weight matrix (PWM). Hence, the final outcome is a binding intensity rank-ordered collection of PWMs each of which spans a different region in the binding spectrum. Nodes of the regression tree depict the critical position/nucleotide combinations. We analyze the CSI data of the eukaryotic TF Nkx-2.5 and two engineered small molecule DNA ligands and obtain unique insights into their binding properties. The CSI tree for Nkx-2.5 reveals an interaction between two positions of the binding profile and elucidates how different nucleotide combinations at these two positions lead to different binding affinities. The CSI trees for the engineered DNA ligands exhibit a common preference for the dinucleotide AA in the first two positions, which is consistent with preference for a narrow and relatively flat minor groove. We carry out a reanalysis of these data with a mixture of PWMs approach. This approach is an advancement over the simple PWM model and accommodates position dependencies based on only sequence data. Our analysis indicates that the dependencies revealed by the CSI-Tree are challenging to discover without the actual binding intensities. Moreover, such a mixture model is highly sensitive to the number and length of the sequences analyzed. In contrast, CSI-Tree provides interpretable and concise summaries of the complete recognition profiles of DNA-binding molecules by utilizing binding affinities.
PMCID: PMC2425502  PMID: 18411210
22.  Variable structure motifs for transcription factor binding sites 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:30.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2824720  PMID: 20074339
23.  Improved benchmarks for computational motif discovery 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:193.
An important step in annotation of sequenced genomes is the identification of transcription factor binding sites. More than a hundred different computational methods have been proposed, and it is difficult to make an informed choice. Therefore, robust assessment of motif discovery methods becomes important, both for validation of existing tools and for identification of promising directions for future research.
We use a machine learning perspective to analyze collections of transcription factors with known binding sites. Algorithms are presented for finding position weight matrices (PWMs), IUPAC-type motifs and mismatch motifs with optimal discrimination of binding sites from remaining sequence. We show that for many data sets in a recently proposed benchmark suite for motif discovery, none of the common motif models can accurately discriminate the binding sites from remaining sequence. This may obscure the distinction between the potential performance of the motif discovery tool itself versus the intrinsic complexity of the problem we are trying to solve. Synthetic data sets may avoid this problem, but we show on some previously proposed benchmarks that there may be a strong bias towards a presupposed motif model. We also propose a new approach to benchmark data set construction. This approach is based on collections of binding site fragments that are ranked according to the optimal level of discrimination achieved with our algorithms. This allows us to select subsets with specific properties. We present one benchmark suite with data sets that allow good discrimination between positive and negative instances with the common motif models. These data sets are suitable for evaluating algorithms for motif discovery that rely on these models. We present another benchmark suite where PWM, IUPAC and mismatch motif models are not able to discriminate reliably between positive and negative instances. This suite could be used for evaluating more powerful motif models.
Our improved benchmark suites have been designed to differentiate between the performance of motif discovery algorithms and the power of motif models. We provide a web server where users can download our benchmark suites, submit predictions and visualize scores on the benchmarks.
PMCID: PMC1903367  PMID: 17559676
24.  is-rSNP: a novel technique for in silico regulatory SNP detection 
Bioinformatics  2010;26(18):i524-i530.
Motivation: Determining the functional impact of non-coding disease-associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) identified by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) is challenging. Many of these SNPs are likely to be regulatory SNPs (rSNPs): variations which affect the ability of a transcription factor (TF) to bind to DNA. However, experimental procedures for identifying rSNPs are expensive and labour intensive. Therefore, in silico methods are required for rSNP prediction. By scoring two alleles with a TF position weight matrix (PWM), it can be determined which SNPs are likely rSNPs. However, predictions in this manner are noisy and no method exists that determines the statistical significance of a nucleotide variation on a PWM score.
Results: We have designed an algorithm for in silico rSNP detection called is-rSNP. We employ novel convolution methods to determine the complete distributions of PWM scores and ratios between allele scores, facilitating assignment of statistical significance to rSNP effects. We have tested our method on 41 experimentally verified rSNPs, correctly predicting the disrupted TF in 28 cases. We also analysed 146 disease-associated SNPs with no known functional impact in an attempt to identify candidate rSNPs. Of the 11 significantly predicted disrupted TFs, 9 had previous evidence of being associated with the disease in the literature. These results demonstrate that is-rSNP is suitable for high-throughput screening of SNPs for potential regulatory function. This is a useful and important tool in the interpretation of GWAS.
Availability: is-rSNP software is available for use at:
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2935445  PMID: 20823317
25.  Protein-coding gene promoters in Methanocaldococcus (Methanococcus) jannaschii 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(11):3588-3601.
Although Methanocaldococcus (Methanococcus) jannaschii was the first archaeon to have its genome sequenced, little is known about the promoters of its protein-coding genes. To expand our knowledge, we have experimentally identified 131 promoters for 107 protein-coding genes in this genome by mapping their transcription start sites. Compared to previously identified promoters, more than half of which are from genes for stable RNAs, the protein-coding gene promoters are qualitatively similar in overall sequence pattern, but statistically different at several positions due to greater variation among their sequences. Relative binding affinity for general transcription factors was measured for 12 of these promoters by competition electrophoretic mobility shift assays. These promoters bind the factors less tightly than do most tRNA gene promoters. When a position weight matrix (PWM) was constructed from the protein gene promoters, factor binding affinities correlated with corresponding promoter PWM scores. We show that the PWM based on our data more accurately predicts promoters in the genome and transcription start sites than could be done with the previously available data. We also introduce a PWM logo, which visually displays the implications of observing a given base at a position in a sequence.
PMCID: PMC2699501  PMID: 19359364

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