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NAR Top Articles - Computational Biology

Computational Biology

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July 2015


A novel reannotation strategy for dissecting DNA methylation patterns of human long intergenic non-coding RNAs in cancers
Zhi, H; Ning, SW; Li, X; Li, YY; Wu, W; Li, X
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 8258-8270
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Despite growing consensus that long intergenic non-coding ribonucleic acids (lincRNAs) are modulators of cancer, the knowledge about the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) methylation patterns of lincRNAs in cancers remains limited. In this study, we constructed DNA methylation profiles for 4629 tumors and 705 normal tissue samples from 20 different types of human cancer by reannotating data of DNA methylation arrays. We found that lincRNAs had different promoter methylation patterns in cancers. We classified 2461 lincRNAs into two categories and three subcategories, according to their promoter methylation patterns in tumors. LincRNAs with resistant methylation patterns in tumors had conserved transcriptional regulation regions and were ubiquitously expressed across normal tissues. By integrating cancer subtype data and patient clinical information, we identified lincRNAs with promoter methylation patterns that were associated with cancer status, subtype or prognosis for several cancers. Network analysis of aberrantly methylated lincRNAs in cancers showed that lincRNAs with aberrant methylation patterns might be involved in cancer development and progression...

Predicting enhancer transcription and activity from chromatin modifications
Zhu, Y; Sun, L; Chen, Z; Whitaker, JW; Wang, T; Wang, W
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 10032-10043
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Enhancers play a pivotal role in regulating the transcription of distal genes. Although certain chromatin features, such as the histone acetyltransferase P300 and the histone modification H3K4me1, indicate the presence of enhancers, only a fraction of enhancers are functionally active. Individual chromatin marks, such as H3K27ac and H3K27me3, have been identified to distinguish active from inactive enhancers. However, the systematic identification of the most informative single modification, or combination thereof, is still lacking. Furthermore, the discovery of enhancer RNAs (eRNAs) provides an alternative approach to directly predicting enhancer activity. However, it remains challenging to link chromatin modifications to eRNA transcription. Herein, we develop a logistic regression model to unravel the relationship between chromatin modifications and eRNA synthesis. We perform a systematic assessment of 24 chromatin modifications in fetal lung fibroblast and demonstrate that a combination of four modifications is sufficient to accurately predict eRNA transcription. Furthermore, we compare the ability of eRNAs and H3K27ac to discriminate enhancer activity...

DNA hybridization kinetics: zippering, internal displacement and sequence dependence
Ouldridge, TE; Sulc, P; Romano, F; Doye, JPK; Louis, AA
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 8886-8895
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Although the thermodynamics of DNA hybridization is generally well established, the kinetics of this classic transition is less well understood. Providing such understanding has new urgency because DNA nanotechnology often depends critically on binding rates. Here, we explore DNA oligomer hybridization kinetics using a coarse-grained model. Strand association proceeds through a complex set of intermediate states, with successful binding events initiated by a few metastable base-pairing interactions, followed by zippering of the remaining bonds. But despite reasonably strong interstrand interactions, initial contacts frequently dissociate because typical configurations in which they form differ from typical states of similar enthalpy in the double-stranded equilibrium ensemble. Initial contacts must be stabilized by two or three base pairs before full zippering is likely, resulting in negative effective activation enthalpies. Non-Arrhenius behavior arises because the number of base pairs required for nucleation increases with temperature. In addition, we observe two alternative pathways-pseudoknot and inchworm internal displacement-through which misaligned duplexes can rearrange to form duplexes.

miRDeep*: an integrated application tool for miRNA identification from RNA sequencing data
An, JY; Lai, J; Lehman, ML; Nelson, CC
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 727-737
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miRDeep and its varieties are widely used to quantify known and novel micro RNA (miRNA) from small RNA sequencing (RNAseq). This article describes miRDeep*, our integrated miRNA identification tool, which is modeled off miRDeep, but the precision of detecting novel miRNAs is improved by introducing new strategies to identify precursor miRNAs. miRDeep* has a user-friendly graphic interface and accepts raw data in FastQ and Sequence Alignment Map (SAM) or the binary equivalent (BAM) format. Known and novel miRNA expression levels, as measured by the number of reads, are displayed in an interface, which shows each RNAseq read relative to the pre-miRNA hairpin. The secondary pre-miRNA structure and read locations for each predicted miRNA are shown and kept in a separate figure file. Moreover, the target genes of known and novel miRNAs are predicted using the TargetScan algorithm, and the targets are ranked according to the confidence score. miRDeep* is an integrated standalone application where sequence alignment, pre-miRNA secondary structure calculation and graphical display are purely Java coded. This application tool can be executed using a normal personal computer with 1.5 GB of memory...

A novel approach to represent and compare RNA secondary structures
Mattei, E; Ausiello, G; Ferre, F; Helmer-Citterich, M
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 6146-6157
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Structural information is crucial in ribonucleic acid (RNA) analysis and functional annotation; nevertheless, how to include such structural data is still a debated problem. Dot-bracket notation is the most common and simple representation for RNA secondary structures but its simplicity leads also to ambiguity requiring further processing steps to dissolve. Here we present BEAR (Brand nEw Alphabet for RNA), a new context-aware structural encoding represented by a string of characters. Each character in BEAR encodes for a specific secondary structure element (loop, stem, bulge and internal loop) with specific length. Furthermore, exploiting this informative and yet simple encoding in multiple alignments of related RNAs, we captured how much structural variation is tolerated in RNA families and convert it into transition rates among secondary structure elements. This allowed us to compute a substitution matrix for secondary structure elements called MBR (Matrix of BEAR-encoded RNA secondary structures), of which we tested the ability in aligning RNA secondary structures...

Enriching the gene set analysis of genome-wide data by incorporating directionality of gene expression and combining statistical hypotheses and methods
Varemo, L; Nielsen, J; Nookaew, I
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 4378-4391
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Gene set analysis (GSA) is used to elucidate genome-wide data, in particular transcriptome data. A multitude of methods have been proposed for this step of the analysis, and many of them have been compared and evaluated. Unfortunately, there is no consolidated opinion regarding what methods should be preferred, and the variety of available GSA software and implementations pose a difficulty for the end-user who wants to try out different methods. To address this, we have developed the R package Piano that collects a range of GSA methods into the same system, for the benefit of the end-user. Further on we refine the GSA workflow by using modifications of the gene-level statistics. This enables us to divide the resulting gene set P-values into three classes, describing different aspects of gene expression directionality at gene set level. We use our fully implemented workflow to investigate the impact of the individual components of GSA by using microarray and RNA-seq data. The results show that the evaluated methods are globally similar and the major separation correlates well with our defined directionality classes...

Interplay of microRNAs, transcription factors and target genes: linking dynamic expression changes to function
Nazarov, PV; Reinsbach, SE; Muller, A; Nicot, N; Philippidou, D; Vallar, L; Kreis, S
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 2817-2831
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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are ubiquitously expressed small non-coding RNAs that, in most cases, negatively regulate gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. miRNAs are involved in fine-tuning fundamental cellular processes such as proliferation, cell death and cell cycle control and are believed to confer robustness to biological responses. Here, we investigated simultaneously the transcriptional changes of miRNA and mRNA expression levels over time after activation of the Janus kinase/Signal transducer and activator of transcription (Jak/STAT) pathway by interferon-gamma stimulation of melanoma cells. To examine global miRNA and mRNA expression patterns, time-series microarray data were analysed. We observed delayed responses of miRNAs (after 24-48 h) with respect to mRNAs (12-24 h) and identified biological functions involved at each step of the cellular response. Inference of the upstream regulators allowed for identification of transcriptional regulators involved in cellular reactions to interferon-gamma stimulation...

Surprisingly extensive mixed phylogenetic and ecological signals among bacterial Operational Taxonomic Units
Koeppel, AF; Wu, M
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 5175-5188
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The lack of a consensus bacterial species concept greatly hampers our ability to understand and organize bacterial diversity. Operational taxonomic units (OTUs), which are clustered on the basis of DNA sequence identity alone, are the most commonly used microbial diversity unit. Although it is understood that OTUs can be phylogenetically incoherent, the degree and the extent of the phylogenetic inconsistency have not been explicitly studied. Here, we tested the phylogenetic signal of OTUs in a broad range of bacterial genera from various phyla. Strikingly, we found that very few OTUs were monophyletic, and many showed evidence of multiple independent origins. Using previously established bacterial habitats as benchmarks, we showed that OTUs frequently spanned multiple ecological habitats. We demonstrated that ecological heterogeneity within OTUs is caused by their phylogenetic inconsistency, and not merely due to 'lumping' of taxa resulting from using relaxed identity cut-offs. We argue that ecotypes, as described by the Stable Ecotype Model, are phylogenetically and ecologically more consistent than OTUs and therefore could serve as an alternative unit for bacterial diversity studies...

TEMP: a computational method for analyzing transposable element polymorphism in populations
Zhuang, JL; Wang, J; Theurkauf, W; Weng, ZP
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 6826-6838
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Insertions and excisions of transposable elements (TEs) affect both the stability and variability of the genome. Studying the dynamics of transposition at the population level can provide crucial insights into the processes and mechanisms of genome evolution. Pooling genomic materials from multiple individuals followed by high-throughput sequencing is an efficient way of characterizing genomic polymorphisms in a population. Here we describe a novel method named TEMP, specifically designed to detect TE movements present with a wide range of frequencies in a population. By combining the information provided by pair-end reads and split reads, TEMP is able to identify both the presence and absence of TE insertions in genomic DNA sequences derived from heterogeneous samples; accurately estimate the frequencies of transposition events in the population and pinpoint junctions of high frequency transposition events at nucleotide resolution. Simulation data indicate that TEMP outperforms other algorithms such as PoPoolationTE, RetroSeq, VariationHunter and GASVPro. TEMP also performs well on whole-genome human data derived from the 1000 Genomes Project...

The RNase H-like superfamily: new members, comparative structural analysis and evolutionary classification
Majorek, KA; Dunin-Horkawicz, S; Steczkiewicz, K; Muszewska, A; Nowotny, M; Ginalski, K; Bujnicki, JM
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 4160-4179
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Ribonuclease H-like (RNHL) superfamily, also called the retroviral integrase superfamily, groups together numerous enzymes involved in nucleic acid metabolism and implicated in many biological processes, including replication, homologous recombination, DNA repair, transposition and RNA interference. The RNHL superfamily proteins show extensive divergence of sequences and structures. We conducted database searches to identify members of the RNHL superfamily (including those previously unknown), yielding > 60 000 unique domain sequences. Our analysis led to the identification of new RNHL superfamily members, such as RRXRR (PF14239), DUF460 (PF04312, COG2433), DUF3010 (PF11215), DUF429 (PF04250 and COG2410, COG4328, COG4923), DUF1092 (PF06485), COG5558, OrfB_IS605 (PF01385, COG0675) and Peptidase_A17 (PF05380). Based on the clustering analysis we grouped all identified RNHL domain sequences into 152 families. Phylogenetic studies revealed relationships between these families, and suggested a possible history of the evolution of RNHL fold and its active site...

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