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1.  A General Pairwise Interaction Model Provides an Accurate Description of In Vivo Transcription Factor Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99015.
The identification of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on genomic DNA is of crucial importance for understanding and predicting regulatory elements in gene networks. TFBS motifs are commonly described by Position Weight Matrices (PWMs), in which each DNA base pair contributes independently to the transcription factor (TF) binding. However, this description ignores correlations between nucleotides at different positions, and is generally inaccurate: analysing fly and mouse in vivo ChIPseq data, we show that in most cases the PWM model fails to reproduce the observed statistics of TFBSs. To overcome this issue, we introduce the pairwise interaction model (PIM), a generalization of the PWM model. The model is based on the principle of maximum entropy and explicitly describes pairwise correlations between nucleotides at different positions, while being otherwise as unconstrained as possible. It is mathematically equivalent to considering a TF-DNA binding energy that depends additively on each nucleotide identity at all positions in the TFBS, like the PWM model, but also additively on pairs of nucleotides. We find that the PIM significantly improves over the PWM model, and even provides an optimal description of TFBS statistics within statistical noise. The PIM generalizes previous approaches to interdependent positions: it accounts for co-variation of two or more base pairs, and predicts secondary motifs, while outperforming multiple-motif models consisting of mixtures of PWMs. We analyse the structure of pairwise interactions between nucleotides, and find that they are sparse and dominantly located between consecutive base pairs in the flanking region of TFBS. Nonetheless, interactions between pairs of non-consecutive nucleotides are found to play a significant role in the obtained accurate description of TFBS statistics. The PIM is computationally tractable, and provides a general framework that should be useful for describing and predicting TFBSs beyond PWMs.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099015
PMCID: PMC4057186  PMID: 24926895
2.  Effective transcription factor binding site prediction using a combination of optimization, a genetic algorithm and discriminant analysis to capture distant interactions 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:481.
Background
Reliable transcription factor binding site (TFBS) prediction methods are essential for computer annotation of large amount of genome sequence data. However, current methods to predict TFBSs are hampered by the high false-positive rates that occur when only sequence conservation at the core binding-sites is considered.
Results
To improve this situation, we have quantified the performance of several Position Weight Matrix (PWM) algorithms, using exhaustive approaches to find their optimal length and position. We applied these approaches to bio-medically important TFBSs involved in the regulation of cell growth and proliferation as well as in inflammatory, immune, and antiviral responses (NF-κB, ISGF3, IRF1, STAT1), obesity and lipid metabolism (PPAR, SREBP, HNF4), regulation of the steroidogenic (SF-1) and cell cycle (E2F) genes expression. We have also gained extra specificity using a method, entitled SiteGA, which takes into account structural interactions within TFBS core and flanking regions, using a genetic algorithm (GA) with a discriminant function of locally positioned dinucleotide (LPD) frequencies.
To ensure a higher confidence in our approach, we applied resampling-jackknife and bootstrap tests for the comparison, it appears that, optimized PWM and SiteGA have shown similar recognition performances. Then we applied SiteGA and optimized PWMs (both separately and together) to sequences in the Eukaryotic Promoter Database (EPD). The resulting SiteGA recognition models can now be used to search sequences for BSs using the web tool, SiteGA.
Analysis of dependencies between close and distant LPDs revealed by SiteGA models has shown that the most significant correlations are between close LPDs, and are generally located in the core (footprint) region. A greater number of less significant correlations are mainly between distant LPDs, which spanned both core and flanking regions. When SiteGA and optimized PWM models were applied together, this substantially reduced false positives at least at higher stringencies.
Conclusion
Based on this analysis, SiteGA adds substantial specificity even to optimized PWMs and may be considered for large-scale genome analysis. It adds to the range of techniques available for TFBS prediction, and EPD analysis has led to a list of genes which appear to be regulated by the above TFs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-481
PMCID: PMC2265442  PMID: 18093302
3.  Assessment of clusters of transcription factor binding sites in relationship to human promoter, CpG islands and gene expression 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:16.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-5-16
PMCID: PMC375527  PMID: 15053842
promoter; tissue-specific gene expression; position weight matrix; regulatory motif
4.  Niche adaptation by expansion and reprogramming of general transcription factors 
Experimental analysis of TFB family proteins in a halophilic archaeon reveals complex environment-dependent fitness contributions. Gene conversion events among these proteins can generate novel niche adaptation capabilities, a process that may have contributed to archaeal adaptation to extreme environments.
Evolution of archaeal lineages correlate with duplication events in the TFB family.Each TFB is required for adaptation to multiple environments.The relative fitness contributions of TFBs change with environmental context.Changes in the regulation of duplicated TFBs can generate new adaptation capabilities.
The evolutionary success of an organism depends on its ability to continually adapt to changes in the patterns of constant, periodic, and transient challenges within its environment. This process of ‘niche adaptation' requires reprogramming of the organism's environmental response networks by reorganizing interactions among diverse parts including environmental sensors, signal transducers, and transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulators. Gene duplications have been discovered to be one of the principal strategies in this process, especially for reprogramming of gene regulatory networks (GRNs). Whereas eukaryotes require dozens of factors for recruitment of RNA polymerase, archaea require just two general transcription factors (GTFs) that are orthologous to eukaryotic TFIIB (TFB in archaea) and TATA-binding protein (TBP) (Bell et al, 1998). Both of these GTFs have expanded extensively in nearly 50% of all archaea whose genomes have been fully sequenced. The phylogenetic analysis presented in this study reveal lineage-specific expansions of TFBs, suggesting that they might encode functionally specialized gene regulatory programs for the unique environments to which these organisms have adapted. This hypothesis is particularly appealing when we consider that the greatest expansion is observed within the group of halophilic archaea whose habitats are associated with routine and dynamic changes in a number of environmental factors including light, temperature, oxygen, salinity, and ionic composition (Rodriguez-Valera, 1993; Litchfield, 1998).
We have previously demonstrated that variations in the expanded set of TFBs (a through e) in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 manifests at the level of physical interactions within and across the two families, their DNA-binding specificity, their differential regulation in varying environments, and, ultimately, on the large-scale segregation of transcription of all genes into overlapping yet distinct sets of functionally related groups (Facciotti et al, 2007). We have extended findings from this earlier study with a systematic survey of the fitness consequences of perturbing the TFB network of H. salinarum NRC-1 across 17 environments. Notably, each TFB conferred fitness in two or more environmental conditions tested, and the relative fitness contributions (see Table I) of the five TFBs varied significantly by environment. From an evolutionary perspective, the relationships among these fitness landscapes reveal that two classes of TFBs (c/g- and f-type) appear to have played an important role in the evolution of halophilic archaea by overseeing regulation of core physiological capabilities in these organisms. TFBs of the other clades (b/d and a/e) seem to have emerged much more recently through gene duplications or horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) and are being utilized for adaptation to specialized environmental conditions.
We also investigated higher-order functional interactions and relationships among the duplicated TFBs by performing competition experiments and by mapping genetic interactions in different environments. This demonstrated that depending on environmental context, the TFBs have strikingly different functional hierarchies and genetic interactions with one another. This is remarkable as it makes each TFB essential albeit at different times in a dynamically changing environment.
In order to understand the process by which such gene family expansions shape architecture and functioning of a GRN, we performed integrated analysis of phylogeny, physical interactions, regulation, and fitness landscapes of the seven TFBs in H. salinarum NRC-1. This revealed that evolution of both their protein-coding sequence and their promoter has been instrumental in the encoding of environment-specific regulatory programs. Importantly, the convergent and divergent evolution of regulation and binding properties of TFBs suggested that, aside from HGT and random mutations, a third plausible (and perhaps most interesting) mechanism for acquiring a novel TFB variant is through gene conversion. To test this hypothesis, we synthesized a novel TFBx by transferring TFBa/e clade-specific residues to a TFBd backbone, transformed this variant under the control of either the TFBd or the TFBe promoter (PtfbD or PtfbE) into three different host genetic backgrounds (Δura3 (parent), ΔtfbD, and ΔtfbE), and analyzed fitness and gene expression patterns during growth at 25 and 37°C. This showed that gene conversion events spanning the coding sequence and the promoter, environmental context, and genetic background of the host are all extremely influential in the functional integration of a TFB into the GRN. Importantly, this analysis suggested that altering the regulation of an existing set of expanded TFBs might be an efficient mechanism to reprogram the GRN to rapidly generate novel niche adaptation capability. We have confirmed this experimentally by increasing fitness merely by moving tfbE to PtfbD control, and by generating a completely novel phenotype (biofilm-like appearance) by overexpression of tfbE.
Altogether this study clearly demonstrates that archaea can rapidly generate novel niche adaptation programs by simply altering regulation of duplicated TFBs. This is significant because expansions in the TFB family is widespread in archaea, a class of organisms that not only represent 20% of biomass on earth but are also known to have colonized some of the most extreme environments (DeLong and Pace, 2001). This strategy for niche adaptation is further expanded through interactions of the multiple TFBs with members of other expanded TF families such as TBPs (Facciotti et al, 2007) and sequence-specific regulators (e.g. Lrp family (Peeters and Charlier, 2010)). This is analogous to combinatorial solutions for other complex biological problems such as recognition of pathogens by Toll-like receptors (Roach et al, 2005), generation of antibody diversity by V(D)J recombination (Early et al, 1980), and recognition and processing of odors (Malnic et al, 1999).
Numerous lineage-specific expansions of the transcription factor B (TFB) family in archaea suggests an important role for expanded TFBs in encoding environment-specific gene regulatory programs. Given the characteristics of hypersaline lakes, the unusually large numbers of TFBs in halophilic archaea further suggests that they might be especially important in rapid adaptation to the challenges of a dynamically changing environment. Motivated by these observations, we have investigated the implications of TFB expansions by correlating sequence variations, regulation, and physical interactions of all seven TFBs in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 to their fitness landscapes, functional hierarchies, and genetic interactions across 2488 experiments covering combinatorial variations in salt, pH, temperature, and Cu stress. This systems analysis has revealed an elegant scheme in which completely novel fitness landscapes are generated by gene conversion events that introduce subtle changes to the regulation or physical interactions of duplicated TFBs. Based on these insights, we have introduced a synthetically redesigned TFB and altered the regulation of existing TFBs to illustrate how archaea can rapidly generate novel phenotypes by simply reprogramming their TFB regulatory network.
doi:10.1038/msb.2011.87
PMCID: PMC3261711  PMID: 22108796
evolution by gene family expansion; fitness; niche adaptation; reprogramming of gene regulatory network; transcription factor B
5.  CSMET: Comparative Genomic Motif Detection via Multi-Resolution Phylogenetic Shadowing 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(6):e1000090.
Functional turnover of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), such as whole-motif loss or gain, are common events during genome evolution. Conventional probabilistic phylogenetic shadowing methods model the evolution of genomes only at nucleotide level, and lack the ability to capture the evolutionary dynamics of functional turnover of aligned sequence entities. As a result, comparative genomic search of non-conserved motifs across evolutionarily related taxa remains a difficult challenge, especially in higher eukaryotes, where the cis-regulatory regions containing motifs can be long and divergent; existing methods rely heavily on specialized pattern-driven heuristic search or sampling algorithms, which can be difficult to generalize and hard to interpret based on phylogenetic principles. We propose a new method: Conditional Shadowing via Multi-resolution Evolutionary Trees, or CSMET, which uses a context-dependent probabilistic graphical model that allows aligned sites from different taxa in a multiple alignment to be modeled by either a background or an appropriate motif phylogeny conditioning on the functional specifications of each taxon. The functional specifications themselves are the output of a phylogeny which models the evolution not of individual nucleotides, but of the overall functionality (e.g., functional retention or loss) of the aligned sequence segments over lineages. Combining this method with a hidden Markov model that autocorrelates evolutionary rates on successive sites in the genome, CSMET offers a principled way to take into consideration lineage-specific evolution of TFBSs during motif detection, and a readily computable analytical form of the posterior distribution of motifs under TFBS turnover. On both simulated and real Drosophila cis-regulatory modules, CSMET outperforms other state-of-the-art comparative genomic motif finders.
Author Summary
Functional turnover of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), such as whole-motif loss or gain, are common events during genome evolution, and play a major role in shaping the genome and regulatory circuitry of contemporary species. Conventional methods for searching non-conserved motifs across evolutionarily related species have little or no probabilistic machinery to explicitly model this important evolutionary process; therefore, they offer little insight into the mechanism and dynamics of TFBS turnover and have limited power in finding motif patterns shaped by such processes. In this paper, we propose a new method: Conditional Shadowing via Multi-resolution Evolutionary Trees, or CSMET, which uses a mathematically elegant and computationally efficient way to model biological sequence evolution at both nucleotide level at each individual site, and functional level of a whole TFBS. CSMET offers the first principled way to take into consideration lineage-specific evolution of TFBSs and CRMs during motif detection, and offers a readily computable analytical form of the posterior distribution of motifs under TFBS turnover. Its performance improves upon current state-of-the-art programs. It represents an initial foray into the problem of statistical inference of functional evolution of TFBS, and offers a well-founded mathematical basis for the development of more realistic and informative models.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000090
PMCID: PMC2396503  PMID: 18535663
6.  A general integrative genomic feature transcription factor binding site prediction method applied to analysis of USF1 binding in cardiovascular disease 
Human genomics  2009;3(3):221-235.
Transcription factors are key mediators of human complex disease processes. Identifying the target genes of transcription factors will increase our understanding of the biological network leading to disease risk. The prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is one method to identify these target genes; however, current prediction methods need improvement. We chose the transcription factor upstream stimulatory factor 1 (USF1) to evaluate the performance of our novel TFBS prediction method because of its known genetic association with coronary artery disease (CAD) and the recent availability of USF1 chromatin immunoprecipitation microarray (ChIP-chip) results. The specific goals of our study were to develop a novel and accurate genome-scale method for predicting USF1 binding sites and associated target genes to aid in the study of CAD. Previously published USF1 ChIP-chip data for 1 per cent of the genome were used to develop and evaluate several kernel logistic regression prediction models. A combination of genomic features (phylogenetic conservation, regulatory potential, presence of a CpG island and DNaseI hypersensitivity), as well as position weight matrix (PWM) scores, were used as variables for these models. Our most accurate predictor achieved an area under the receiver operator characteristic curve of 0.827 during cross-validation experiments, significantly outperforming standard PWM-based prediction methods. When applied to the whole human genome, we predicted 24,010 USF1 binding sites within 5 kilobases upstream of the transcription start site of 9,721 genes. These predictions included 16 of 20 genes with strong evidence of USF1 regulation. Finally, in the spirit of genomic convergence, we integrated independent experimental CAD data with these USF1 binding site prediction results to develop a prioritised set of candidate genes for future CAD studies. We have shown that our novel prediction method, which employs genomic features related to the presence of regulatory elements, enables more accurate and efficient prediction of USF1 binding sites. This method can be extended to other transcription factors identified in human disease studies to help further our understanding of the biology of complex disease.
PMCID: PMC2742312  PMID: 19403457
transcription factors; cardiovascular disease; human genetics; binding site prediction
7.  A general integrative genomic feature transcription factor binding site prediction method applied to analysis of USF1 binding in cardiovascular disease 
Human Genomics  2009;3(3):221-235.
Transcription factors are key mediators of human complex disease processes. Identifying the target genes of transcription factors will increase our understanding of the biological network leading to disease risk. The prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) is one method to identify these target genes; however, current prediction methods need improvement. We chose the transcription factor upstream stimulatory factor l (USF1) to evaluate the performance of our novel TFBS prediction method because of its known genetic association with coronary artery disease (CAD) and the recent availability of USF1 chromatin immunoprecipitation microarray (ChIP-chip) results. The specific goals of our study were to develop a novel and accurate genome-scale method for predicting USF1 binding sites and associated target genes to aid in the study of CAD. Previously published USF1 ChIP-chip data for 1 per cent of the genome were used to develop and evaluate several kernel logistic regression prediction models. A combination of genomic features (phylogenetic conservation, regulatory potential, presence of a CpG island and DNaseI hypersensitivity), as well as position weight matrix (PWM) scores, were used as variables for these models. Our most accurate predictor achieved an area under the receiver operator characteristic curve of 0.827 during cross-validation experiments, significantly outperforming standard PWM-based prediction methods. When applied to the whole human genome, we predicted 24,010 USF1 binding sites within 5 kilobases upstream of the transcription start site of 9,721 genes. These predictions included 16 of 20 genes with strong evidence of USF1 regulation. Finally, in the spirit of genomic convergence, we integrated independent experimental CAD data with these USF1 binding site prediction results to develop a prioritised set of candidate genes for future CAD studies. We have shown that our novel prediction method, which employs genomic features related to the presence of regulatory elements, enables more accurate and efficient prediction of USF1 binding sites. This method can be extended to other transcription factors identified in human disease studies to help further our understanding of the biology of complex disease.
doi:10.1186/1479-7364-3-3-221
PMCID: PMC2742312  PMID: 19403457
transcription factors; cardiovascular disease; human genetics; binding site prediction
8.  Alignment and Prediction of cis-Regulatory Modules Based on a Probabilistic Model of Evolution 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(3):e1000299.
Cross-species comparison has emerged as a powerful paradigm for predicting cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) and understanding their evolution. The comparison requires reliable sequence alignment, which remains a challenging task for less conserved noncoding sequences. Furthermore, the existing models of DNA sequence evolution generally do not explicitly treat the special properties of CRM sequences. To address these limitations, we propose a model of CRM evolution that captures different modes of evolution of functional transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) and the background sequences. A particularly novel aspect of our work is a probabilistic model of gains and losses of TFBSs, a process being recognized as an important part of regulatory sequence evolution. We present a computational framework that uses this model to solve the problems of CRM alignment and prediction. Our alignment method is similar to existing methods of statistical alignment but uses the conserved binding sites to improve alignment. Our CRM prediction method deals with the inherent uncertainties of binding site annotations and sequence alignment in a probabilistic framework. In simulated as well as real data, we demonstrate that our program is able to improve both alignment and prediction of CRM sequences over several state-of-the-art methods. Finally, we used alignments produced by our program to study binding site conservation in genome-wide binding data of key transcription factors in the Drosophila blastoderm, with two intriguing results: (i) the factor-bound sequences are under strong evolutionary constraints even if their neighboring genes are not expressed in the blastoderm and (ii) binding sites in distal bound sequences (relative to transcription start sites) tend to be more conserved than those in proximal regions. Our approach is implemented as software, EMMA (Evolutionary Model-based cis-regulatory Module Analysis), ready to be applied in a broad biological context.
Author Summary
Comparison of noncoding DNA sequences across species has the potential to significantly improve our understanding of gene regulation and our ability to annotate regulatory regions of the genome. This potential is evident from recent publications analyzing 12 Drosophila genomes for regulatory annotation. However, because noncoding sequences are much less structured than coding sequences, their interspecies comparison presents technical challenges, such as ambiguity about how to align them and how to predict transcription factor binding sites, which are the fundamental units that make up regulatory sequences. This article describes how to build an integrated probabilistic framework that performs alignment and binding site prediction simultaneously, in the process improving the accuracy of both tasks. It defines a stochastic model for the evolution of entire “cis-regulatory modules,” with its highlight being a novel theoretical treatment of the commonly observed loss and gain of binding sites during evolution. This new evolutionary model forms the backbone of newly developed software for the prediction of new cis-regulatory modules, alignment of known modules to elucidate general principles of cis-regulatory evolution, or both. The new software is demonstrated to provide benefits in performance of these two crucial genomics tasks.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000299
PMCID: PMC2657044  PMID: 19293946
9.  Does Positive Selection Drive Transcription Factor Binding Site Turnover? A Test with Drosophila Cis-Regulatory Modules 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(4):e1002053.
Transcription factor binding site(s) (TFBS) gain and loss (i.e., turnover) is a well-documented feature of cis-regulatory module (CRM) evolution, yet little attention has been paid to the evolutionary force(s) driving this turnover process. The predominant view, motivated by its widespread occurrence, emphasizes the importance of compensatory mutation and genetic drift. Positive selection, in contrast, although it has been invoked in specific instances of adaptive gene expression evolution, has not been considered as a general alternative to neutral compensatory evolution. In this study we evaluate the two hypotheses by analyzing patterns of single nucleotide polymorphism in the TFBS of well-characterized CRM in two closely related Drosophila species, Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans. An important feature of the analysis is classification of TFBS mutations according to the direction of their predicted effect on binding affinity, which allows gains and losses to be evaluated independently along the two phylogenetic lineages. The observed patterns of polymorphism and divergence are not compatible with neutral evolution for either class of mutations. Instead, multiple lines of evidence are consistent with contributions of positive selection to TFBS gain and loss as well as purifying selection in its maintenance. In discussion, we propose a model to reconcile the finding of selection driving TFBS turnover with constrained CRM function over long evolutionary time.
Author Summary
Transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) turnover (i.e. lineage-specific gain and loss) is a well-documented phenomenon in eukaryote cis-regulatory modules (CRM). The wide spread of the phenomenon and the appearance of conserved expression patterns for diverged orthologous CRM led to the standing view that the observed gain and loss of TFBS were functionally and selectively neutral. To the contrary, genome-wide population genetics analyses have unequivocally identified signatures of positive selection acting in noncoding regions in general, and particularly in 5′ and 3′ untranscribed regions of genes. To specifically test the neutral versus selection hypotheses for the TFBS turnover process, we analyzed natural variation patterns within and between two closely related Drosophila species. We found the patterns of divergence and polymorphism for two types of mutations—those inferred to increase or decrease the binding affinity respectively—are not compatible with a neutral hypothesis. Instead, multiple lines of evidence suggested that positive selection has contributed to gain as well as loss of TFBS in the two lineages, with purifying selection maintaining existing TFBS in the population. Spacer sequences also showed signatures of negative and positive selection. We proposed a model of CRM evolution to reconcile the finding of frequent adaptive changes with constraints on long-term evolution.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002053
PMCID: PMC3084208  PMID: 21572512
10.  The Next Generation of Transcription Factor Binding Site Prediction 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(9):e1003214.
Finding where transcription factors (TFs) bind to the DNA is of key importance to decipher gene regulation at a transcriptional level. Classically, computational prediction of TF binding sites (TFBSs) is based on basic position weight matrices (PWMs) which quantitatively score binding motifs based on the observed nucleotide patterns in a set of TFBSs for the corresponding TF. Such models make the strong assumption that each nucleotide participates independently in the corresponding DNA-protein interaction and do not account for flexible length motifs. We introduce transcription factor flexible models (TFFMs) to represent TF binding properties. Based on hidden Markov models, TFFMs are flexible, and can model both position interdependence within TFBSs and variable length motifs within a single dedicated framework. The availability of thousands of experimentally validated DNA-TF interaction sequences from ChIP-seq allows for the generation of models that perform as well as PWMs for stereotypical TFs and can improve performance for TFs with flexible binding characteristics. We present a new graphical representation of the motifs that convey properties of position interdependence. TFFMs have been assessed on ChIP-seq data sets coming from the ENCODE project, revealing that they can perform better than both PWMs and the dinucleotide weight matrix extension in discriminating ChIP-seq from background sequences. Under the assumption that ChIP-seq signal values are correlated with the affinity of the TF-DNA binding, we find that TFFM scores correlate with ChIP-seq peak signals. Moreover, using available TF-DNA affinity measurements for the Max TF, we demonstrate that TFFMs constructed from ChIP-seq data correlate with published experimentally measured DNA-binding affinities. Finally, TFFMs allow for the straightforward computation of an integrated TF occupancy score across a sequence. These results demonstrate the capacity of TFFMs to accurately model DNA-protein interactions, while providing a single unified framework suitable for the next generation of TFBS prediction.
Author Summary
Transcription factors are critical proteins for sequence-specific control of transcriptional regulation. Finding where these proteins bind to DNA is of key importance for global efforts to decipher the complex mechanisms of gene regulation. Greater understanding of the regulation of transcription promises to improve human genetic analysis by specifying critical gene components that have eluded investigators. Classically, computational prediction of transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) is based on models giving weights to each nucleotide at each position. We introduce a novel statistical model for the prediction of TFBS tolerant of a broader range of TFBS configurations than can be conveniently accommodated by existing methods. The new models are designed to address the confounding properties of nucleotide composition, inter-positional sequence dependence and variable lengths (e.g. variable spacing between half-sites) observed in the more comprehensive experimental data now emerging. The new models generate scores consistent with DNA-protein affinities measured experimentally and can be represented graphically, retaining desirable attributes of past methods. It demonstrates the capacity of the new approach to accurately assess DNA-protein interactions. With the rich experimental data generated from chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, a greater diversity of TFBS properties has emerged that can now be accommodated within a single predictive approach.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003214
PMCID: PMC3764009  PMID: 24039567
11.  De novo prediction of cis-regulatory elements and modules through integrative analysis of a large number of ChIP datasets 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):1047.
Background
In eukaryotes, transcriptional regulation is usually mediated by interactions of multiple transcription factors (TFs) with their respective specific cis-regulatory elements (CREs) in the so-called cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) in DNA. Although the knowledge of CREs and CRMs in a genome is crucial to elucidate gene regulatory networks and understand many important biological phenomena, little is known about the CREs and CRMs in most eukaryotic genomes due to the difficulty to characterize them by either computational or traditional experimental methods. However, the exponentially increasing number of TF binding location data produced by the recent wide adaptation of chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with microarray hybridization (ChIP-chip) or high-throughput sequencing (ChIP-seq) technologies has provided an unprecedented opportunity to identify CRMs and CREs in genomes. Nonetheless, how to effectively mine these large volumes of ChIP data to identify CREs and CRMs at nucleotide resolution is a highly challenging task.
Results
We have developed a novel graph-theoretic based algorithm DePCRM for genome-wide de novo predictions of CREs and CRMs using a large number of ChIP datasets. DePCRM predicts CREs and CRMs by identifying overrepresented combinatorial CRE motif patterns in multiple ChIP datasets in an effective way. When applied to 168 ChIP datasets of 56 TFs from D. melanogaster, DePCRM identified 184 and 746 overrepresented CRE motifs and their combinatorial patterns, respectively, and predicted a total of 115,932 CRMs in the genome. The predictions recover 77.9% of known CRMs in the datasets and 89.3% of known CRMs containing at least one predicted CRE. We found that the putative CRMs as well as CREs as a whole in a CRM are more conserved than randomly selected sequences.
Conclusion
Our results suggest that the CRMs predicted by DePCRM are highly likely to be functional. Our algorithm is the first of its kind for de novo genome-wide prediction of CREs and CRMs using larger number of transcription factor ChIP datasets. The algorithm and predictions will hopefully facilitate the elucidation of gene regulatory networks in eukaryotes. All the predicted CREs, CRMs, and their target genes are available at http://bioinfo.uncc.edu/mniu/pcrms/www/.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1047) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1047
PMCID: PMC4265420  PMID: 25442502
cis-regulatory elements; cis-regulatory modules; ChIP-chip; ChIP-seq; Drosophila melanogaster
12.  Predicting tissue specific cis-regulatory modules in the human genome using pairs of co-occurring motifs 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:25.
Background
Researchers seeking to unlock the genetic basis of human physiology and diseases have been studying gene transcription regulation. The temporal and spatial patterns of gene expression are controlled by mainly non-coding elements known as cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) and epigenetic factors. CRMs modulating related genes share the regulatory signature which consists of transcription factor (TF) binding sites (TFBSs). Identifying such CRMs is a challenging problem due to the prohibitive number of sequence sets that need to be analyzed.
Results
We formulated the challenge as a supervised classification problem even though experimentally validated CRMs were not required. Our efforts resulted in a software system named CrmMiner. The system mines for CRMs in the vicinity of related genes. CrmMiner requires two sets of sequences: a mixed set and a control set. Sequences in the vicinity of the related genes comprise the mixed set, whereas the control set includes random genomic sequences. CrmMiner assumes that a large percentage of the mixed set is made of background sequences that do not include CRMs. The system identifies pairs of closely located motifs representing vertebrate TFBSs that are enriched in the training mixed set consisting of 50% of the gene loci. In addition, CrmMiner selects a group of the enriched pairs to represent the tissue-specific regulatory signature. The mixed and the control sets are searched for candidate sequences that include any of the selected pairs. Next, an optimal Bayesian classifier is used to distinguish candidates found in the mixed set from their control counterparts. Our study proposes 62 tissue-specific regulatory signatures and putative CRMs for different human tissues and cell types. These signatures consist of assortments of ubiquitously expressed TFs and tissue-specific TFs. Under controlled settings, CrmMiner identified known CRMs in noisy sets up to 1:25 signal-to-noise ratio. CrmMiner was 21-75% more precise than a related CRM predictor. The sensitivity of the system to locate known human heart enhancers reached up to 83%. CrmMiner precision reached 82% while mining for CRMs specific to the human CD4+ T cells. On several data sets, the system achieved 99% specificity.
Conclusion
These results suggest that CrmMiner predictions are accurate and likely to be tissue-specific CRMs. We expect that the predicted tissue-specific CRMs and the regulatory signatures broaden our knowledge of gene transcription regulation.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-25
PMCID: PMC3359238  PMID: 22313678
13.  Identifying Functional Transcription Factor Binding Sites in Yeast by Considering Their Positional Preference in the Promoters 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83791.
Transcription factor binding site (TFBS) identification plays an important role in deciphering gene regulatory codes. With comprehensive knowledge of TFBSs, one can understand molecular mechanisms of gene regulation. In the recent decades, various computational approaches have been proposed to predict TFBSs in the genome. The TFBS dataset of a TF generated by each algorithm is a ranked list of predicted TFBSs of that TF, where top ranked TFBSs are statistically significant ones. However, whether these statistically significant TFBSs are functional (i.e. biologically relevant) is still unknown. Here we develop a post-processor, called the functional propensity calculator (FPC), to assign a functional propensity to each TFBS in the existing computationally predicted TFBS datasets. It is known that functional TFBSs reveal strong positional preference towards the transcriptional start site (TSS). This motivates us to take TFBS position relative to the TSS as the key idea in building our FPC. Based on our calculated functional propensities, the TFBSs of a TF in the original TFBS dataset could be reordered, where top ranked TFBSs are now the ones with high functional propensities. To validate the biological significance of our results, we perform three published statistical tests to assess the enrichment of Gene Ontology (GO) terms, the enrichment of physical protein-protein interactions, and the tendency of being co-expressed. The top ranked TFBSs in our reordered TFBS dataset outperform the top ranked TFBSs in the original TFBS dataset, justifying the effectiveness of our post-processor in extracting functional TFBSs from the original TFBS dataset. More importantly, assigning functional propensities to putative TFBSs enables biologists to easily identify which TFBSs in the promoter of interest are likely to be biologically relevant and are good candidates to do further detailed experimental investigation. The FPC is implemented as a web tool at http://santiago.ee.ncku.edu.tw/FPC/.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083791
PMCID: PMC3873331  PMID: 24386279
14.  Tree-Based Position Weight Matrix Approach to Model Transcription Factor Binding Site Profiles 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24210.
Most of the position weight matrix (PWM) based bioinformatics methods developed to predict transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) assume each nucleotide in the sequence motif contributes independently to the interaction between protein and DNA sequence, usually producing high false positive predictions. The increasing availability of TF enrichment profiles from recent ChIP-Seq methodology facilitates the investigation of dependent structure and accurate prediction of TFBSs. We develop a novel Tree-based PWM (TPWM) approach to accurately model the interaction between TF and its binding site. The whole tree-structured PWM could be considered as a mixture of different conditional-PWMs. We propose a discriminative approach, called TPD (TPWM based Discriminative Approach), to construct the TPWM from the ChIP-Seq data with a pre-existing PWM. To achieve the maximum discriminative power between the positive and negative datasets, the cutoff value is determined based on the Matthew Correlation Coefficient (MCC). The resulting TPWMs are evaluated with respect to accuracy on extensive synthetic datasets. We then apply our TPWM discriminative approach on several real ChIP-Seq datasets to refine the current TFBS models stored in the TRANSFAC database. Experiments on both the simulated and real ChIP-Seq data show that the proposed method starting from existing PWM has consistently better performance than existing tools in detecting the TFBSs. The improved accuracy is the result of modelling the complete dependent structure of the motifs and better prediction of true positive rate. The findings could lead to better understanding of the mechanisms of TF-DNA interactions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024210
PMCID: PMC3166302  PMID: 21912677
15.  DISCOVER: a feature-based discriminative method for motif search in complex genomes 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(12):i321-i329.
Motivation: Identifying transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) encoding complex regulatory signals in metazoan genomes remains a challenging problem in computational genomics. Due to degeneracy of nucleotide content among binding site instances or motifs, and intricate ‘grammatical organization’ of motifs within cis-regulatory modules (CRMs), extant pattern matching-based in silico motif search methods often suffer from impractically high false positive rates, especially in the context of analyzing large genomic datasets, and noisy position weight matrices which characterize binding sites. Here, we try to address this problem by using a framework to maximally utilize the information content of the genomic DNA in the region of query, taking cues from values of various biologically meaningful genetic and epigenetic factors in the query region such as clade-specific evolutionary parameters, presence/absence of nearby coding regions, etc. We present a new method for TFBS prediction in metazoan genomes that utilizes both the CRM architecture of sequences and a variety of features of individual motifs. Our proposed approach is based on a discriminative probabilistic model known as conditional random fields that explicitly optimizes the predictive probability of motif presence in large sequences, based on the joint effect of all such features.
Results: This model overcomes weaknesses in earlier methods based on less effective statistical formalisms that are sensitive to spurious signals in the data. We evaluate our method on both simulated CRMs and real Drosophila sequences in comparison with a wide spectrum of existing models, and outperform the state of the art by 22% in F1 score.
Availability and Implementation: The code is publicly available at http://www.sailing.cs.cmu.edu/discover.html.
Contact: epxing@cs.cmu.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btp230
PMCID: PMC2687984  PMID: 19478006
16.  Improved accuracy of supervised CRM discovery with interpolated Markov models and cross-species comparison 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(22):9463-9472.
Despite recent advances in experimental approaches for identifying transcriptional cis-regulatory modules (CRMs, ‘enhancers’), direct empirical discovery of CRMs for all genes in all cell types and environmental conditions is likely to remain an elusive goal. Effective methods for computational CRM discovery are thus a critically needed complement to empirical approaches. However, existing computational methods that search for clusters of putative binding sites are ineffective if the relevant TFs and/or their binding specificities are unknown. Here, we provide a significantly improved method for ‘motif-blind’ CRM discovery that does not depend on knowledge or accurate prediction of TF-binding motifs and is effective when limited knowledge of functional CRMs is available to ‘supervise’ the search. We propose a new statistical method, based on ‘Interpolated Markov Models’, for motif-blind, genome-wide CRM discovery. It captures the statistical profile of variable length words in known CRMs of a regulatory network and finds candidate CRMs that match this profile. The method also uses orthologs of the known CRMs from closely related genomes. We perform in silico evaluation of predicted CRMs by assessing whether their neighboring genes are enriched for the expected expression patterns. This assessment uses a novel statistical test that extends the widely used Hypergeometric test of gene set enrichment to account for variability in intergenic lengths. We find that the new CRM prediction method is superior to existing methods. Finally, we experimentally validate 12 new CRM predictions by examining their regulatory activity in vivo in Drosophila; 10 of the tested CRMs were found to be functional, while 6 of the top 7 predictions showed the expected activity patterns. We make our program available as downloadable source code, and as a plugin for a genome browser installed on our servers.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkr621
PMCID: PMC3239187  PMID: 21821659
17.  Validation of Skeletal Muscle cis-Regulatory Module Predictions Reveals Nucleotide Composition Bias in Functional Enhancers 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002256.
We performed a genome-wide scan for muscle-specific cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) using three computational prediction programs. Based on the predictions, 339 candidate CRMs were tested in cell culture with NIH3T3 fibroblasts and C2C12 myoblasts for capacity to direct selective reporter gene expression to differentiated C2C12 myotubes. A subset of 19 CRMs validated as functional in the assay. The rate of predictive success reveals striking limitations of computational regulatory sequence analysis methods for CRM discovery. Motif-based methods performed no better than predictions based only on sequence conservation. Analysis of the properties of the functional sequences relative to inactive sequences identifies nucleotide sequence composition can be an important characteristic to incorporate in future methods for improved predictive specificity. Muscle-related TFBSs predicted within the functional sequences display greater sequence conservation than non-TFBS flanking regions. Comparison with recent MyoD and histone modification ChIP-Seq data supports the validity of the functional regions.
Author Summary
For efficient identification of genomic sequences responsible for regulating gene expression, a number of computer programs have been developed for automatic annotation of these regulatory regions. We searched for potential regulatory regions responsible for controlling the expression of skeletal muscle-specific genes using these programs, and validated the predictions in a popular cell culture model for muscle. We were able to identify 19 previously uncharacterized regulatory regions for muscle genes. The accuracy of the predictions made by these programs leaves much to be desired, leading us to conclude that other signals in addition to the sequence information will be required to achieve sufficient predictive power for genome annotation. Genomic regions with confirmed regulatory function were compared against non-functional sequences, revealing sequence conservation, composition and chromatin modification properties as important signals in determining regulatory region functionality.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002256
PMCID: PMC3228787  PMID: 22144875
18.  Transcription Factor Binding Sites Prediction Based on Modified Nucleosomes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89226.
In computational methods, position weight matrices (PWMs) are commonly applied for transcription factor binding site (TFBS) prediction. Although these matrices are more accurate than simple consensus sequences to predict actual binding sites, they usually produce a large number of false positive (FP) predictions and so are impoverished sources of information. Several studies have employed additional sources of information such as sequence conservation or the vicinity to transcription start sites to distinguish true binding regions from random ones. Recently, the spatial distribution of modified nucleosomes has been shown to be associated with different promoter architectures. These aligned patterns can facilitate DNA accessibility for transcription factors. We hypothesize that using data from these aligned and periodic patterns can improve the performance of binding region prediction. In this study, we propose two effective features, “modified nucleosomes neighboring” and “modified nucleosomes occupancy”, to decrease FP in binding site discovery. Based on these features, we designed a logistic regression classifier which estimates the probability of a region as a TFBS. Our model learned each feature based on Sp1 binding sites on Chromosome 1 and was tested on the other chromosomes in human CD4+T cells. In this work, we investigated 21 histone modifications and found that only 8 out of 21 marks are strongly correlated with transcription factor binding regions. To prove that these features are not specific to Sp1, we combined the logistic regression classifier with the PWM, and created a new model to search TFBSs on the genome. We tested the model using transcription factors MAZ, PU.1 and ELF1 and compared the results to those using only the PWM. The results show that our model can predict Transcription factor binding regions more successfully. The relative simplicity of the model and capability of integrating other features make it a superior method for TFBS prediction.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089226
PMCID: PMC3931712  PMID: 24586611
19.  Application of experimentally verified transcription factor binding sites models for computational analysis of ChIP-Seq data 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:80.
Background
ChIP-Seq is widely used to detect genomic segments bound by transcription factors (TF), either directly at DNA binding sites (BSs) or indirectly via other proteins. Currently, there are many software tools implementing different approaches to identify TFBSs within ChIP-Seq peaks. However, their use for the interpretation of ChIP-Seq data is usually complicated by the absence of direct experimental verification, making it difficult both to set a threshold to avoid recognition of too many false-positive BSs, and to compare the actual performance of different models.
Results
Using ChIP-Seq data for FoxA2 binding loci in mouse adult liver and human HepG2 cells we compared FoxA binding-site predictions for four computational models of two fundamental classes: pattern matching based on existing training set of experimentally confirmed TFBSs (oPWM and SiteGA) and de novo motif discovery (ChIPMunk and diChIPMunk). To properly select prediction thresholds for the models, we experimentally evaluated affinity of 64 predicted FoxA BSs using EMSA that allows safely distinguishing sequences able to bind TF. As a result we identified thousands of reliable FoxA BSs within ChIP-Seq loci from mouse liver and human HepG2 cells. It was found that the performance of conventional position weight matrix (PWM) models was inferior with the highest false positive rate. On the contrary, the best recognition efficiency was achieved by the combination of SiteGA & diChIPMunk/ChIPMunk models, properly identifying FoxA BSs in up to 90% of loci for both mouse and human ChIP-Seq datasets.
Conclusions
The experimental study of TF binding to oligonucleotides corresponding to predicted sites increases the reliability of computational methods for TFBS-recognition in ChIP-Seq data analysis. Regarding ChIP-Seq data interpretation, basic PWMs have inferior TFBS recognition quality compared to the more sophisticated SiteGA and de novo motif discovery methods. A combination of models from different principles allowed identification of proper TFBSs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-80
PMCID: PMC4234207  PMID: 24472686
ChIP-Seq; EMSA; Transcription factor binding sites; FoxA; SiteGA; PWM; Transcription factor binding model; Dinucleotide frequencies
20.  Assessing Computational Methods of Cis-Regulatory Module Prediction 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(12):e1001020.
Computational methods attempting to identify instances of cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) in the genome face a challenging problem of searching for potentially interacting transcription factor binding sites while knowledge of the specific interactions involved remains limited. Without a comprehensive comparison of their performance, the reliability and accuracy of these tools remains unclear. Faced with a large number of different tools that address this problem, we summarized and categorized them based on search strategy and input data requirements. Twelve representative methods were chosen and applied to predict CRMs from the Drosophila CRM database REDfly, and across the human ENCODE regions. Our results show that the optimal choice of method varies depending on species and composition of the sequences in question. When discriminating CRMs from non-coding regions, those methods considering evolutionary conservation have a stronger predictive power than methods designed to be run on a single genome. Different CRM representations and search strategies rely on different CRM properties, and different methods can complement one another. For example, some favour homotypical clusters of binding sites, while others perform best on short CRMs. Furthermore, most methods appear to be sensitive to the composition and structure of the genome to which they are applied. We analyze the principal features that distinguish the methods that performed well, identify weaknesses leading to poor performance, and provide a guide for users. We also propose key considerations for the development and evaluation of future CRM-prediction methods.
Author Summary
Transcriptional regulation involves multiple transcription factors binding to DNA sequences. A limited repertoire of transcription factors performs this complex regulatory step through various spatial and temporal interactions between themselves and their binding sites. These transcription factor binding interactions are clustered as distinct modules: cis-regulatory modules (CRMs). Computational methods attempting to identify instances of CRMs in the genome face a challenging problem because a majority of these interactions between transcription factors remain unknown. To investigate the reliability and accuracy of these methods, we chose twelve representative methods and applied them to predict CRMs on both the fly and human genomes. Our results show that the optimal choice of method varies depending on species and composition of the sequences in question. Different CRM representations and search strategies rely on different CRM properties, and different methods can complement one another. We provide a guide for users and key considerations for developers. We also expect that, along with new technology generating new types of genomic data, future CRM prediction methods will be able to reveal transcription binding interactions in three-dimensional space.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1001020
PMCID: PMC2996316  PMID: 21152003
21.  Uncovering transcriptional interactions via an adaptive fuzzy logic approach 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:400.
Background
To date, only a limited number of transcriptional regulatory interactions have been uncovered. In a pilot study integrating sequence data with microarray data, a position weight matrix (PWM) performed poorly in inferring transcriptional interactions (TIs), which represent physical interactions between transcription factors (TF) and upstream sequences of target genes. Inferring a TI means that the promoter sequence of a target is inferred to match the consensus sequence motifs of a potential TF, and their interaction type such as AT or RT is also predicted. Thus, a robust PWM (rPWM) was developed to search for consensus sequence motifs. In addition to rPWM, one feature extracted from ChIP-chip data was incorporated to identify potential TIs under specific conditions. An interaction type classifier was assembled to predict activation/repression of potential TIs using microarray data. This approach, combining an adaptive (learning) fuzzy inference system and an interaction type classifier to predict transcriptional regulatory networks, was named AdaFuzzy.
Results
AdaFuzzy was applied to predict TIs using real genomics data from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Following one of the latest advances in predicting TIs, constrained probabilistic sparse matrix factorization (cPSMF), and using 19 transcription factors (TFs), we compared AdaFuzzy to four well-known approaches using over-representation analysis and gene set enrichment analysis. AdaFuzzy outperformed these four algorithms. Furthermore, AdaFuzzy was shown to perform comparably to 'ChIP-experimental method' in inferring TIs identified by two sets of large scale ChIP-chip data, respectively. AdaFuzzy was also able to classify all predicted TIs into one or more of the four promoter architectures. The results coincided with known promoter architectures in yeast and provided insights into transcriptional regulatory mechanisms.
Conclusion
AdaFuzzy successfully integrates multiple types of data (sequence, ChIP, and microarray) to predict transcriptional regulatory networks. The validated success in the prediction results implies that AdaFuzzy can be applied to uncover TIs in yeast.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-10-400
PMCID: PMC2797023  PMID: 19961622
22.  Phylogenetic simulation of promoter evolution: estimation and modeling of binding site turnover events and assessment of their impact on alignment tools 
Genome Biology  2007;8(10):R225.
Phylogenetic simulation of promoter evolution were used to analyze functional site turnover in regulatory sequences.
Background
The phenomenon of functional site turnover has important implications for the study of regulatory region evolution, such as for promoter sequence alignments and transcription factor binding site (TFBS) identification. At present, it remains difficult to estimate TFBS turnover rates on real genomic sequences, as reliable mappings of functional sites across related species are often not available. As an alternative, we introduce a flexible new simulation system, Phylogenetic Simulation of Promoter Evolution (PSPE), designed to study functional site turnovers in regulatory sequences.
Results
Using PSPE, we study replacement turnover rates of different individual TFBSs and simple modules of two sites under neutral evolutionary functional constraints. We find that TFBS replacement turnover can happen rapidly in promoters, and turnover rates vary significantly among different TFBSs and modules. We assess the influence of different constraints such as insertion/deletion rate and translocation distances. Complementing the simulations, we give simple but effective mathematical models for TFBS turnover rate prediction. As one important application of PSPE, we also present a first systematic evaluation of multiple sequence aligners regarding their capability of detecting TFBSs in promoters with site turnovers.
Conclusion
PSPE allows researchers for the first time to investigate TFBS replacement turnovers in promoters systematically. The assessment of alignment tools points out the limitations of current approaches to identify TFBSs in non-coding sequences, where turnover events of functional sites may happen frequently, and where we are interested in assessing the similarity on the functional level. PSPE is freely available at the authors' website.
doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-10-r225
PMCID: PMC2246299  PMID: 17956628
23.  A Systems Biology Approach to Transcription Factor Binding Site Prediction 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9878.
Background
The elucidation of mammalian transcriptional regulatory networks holds great promise for both basic and translational research and remains one the greatest challenges to systems biology. Recent reverse engineering methods deduce regulatory interactions from large-scale mRNA expression profiles and cross-species conserved regulatory regions in DNA. Technical challenges faced by these methods include distinguishing between direct and indirect interactions, associating transcription regulators with predicted transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), identifying non-linearly conserved binding sites across species, and providing realistic accuracy estimates.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We address these challenges by closely integrating proven methods for regulatory network reverse engineering from mRNA expression data, linearly and non-linearly conserved regulatory region discovery, and TFBS evaluation and discovery. Using an extensive test set of high-likelihood interactions, which we collected in order to provide realistic prediction-accuracy estimates, we show that a careful integration of these methods leads to significant improvements in prediction accuracy. To verify our methods, we biochemically validated TFBS predictions made for both transcription factors (TFs) and co-factors; we validated binding site predictions made using a known E2F1 DNA-binding motif on E2F1 predicted promoter targets, known E2F1 and JUND motifs on JUND predicted promoter targets, and a de novo discovered motif for BCL6 on BCL6 predicted promoter targets. Finally, to demonstrate accuracy of prediction using an external dataset, we showed that sites matching predicted motifs for ZNF263 are significantly enriched in recent ZNF263 ChIP-seq data.
Conclusions/Significance
Using an integrative framework, we were able to address technical challenges faced by state of the art network reverse engineering methods, leading to significant improvement in direct-interaction detection and TFBS-discovery accuracy. We estimated the accuracy of our framework on a human B-cell specific test set, which may help guide future methodological development.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009878
PMCID: PMC2845628  PMID: 20360861
24.  Flanking sequence context-dependent transcription factor binding in early Drosophila development 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14:298.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-298
PMCID: PMC3851692  PMID: 24093548
Transcription factor; Binding site; Position weight matrix; Enhancer; Cis-regulatory module; Drosophila
25.  Dinucleotide Weight Matrices for Predicting Transcription Factor Binding Sites: Generalizing the Position Weight Matrix 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9722.
Background
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.
Conclusion/Significance
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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009722
PMCID: PMC2842295  PMID: 20339533

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