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NAR Top Articles - Computational Biology

Computational Biology

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April 2015


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...

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...

An intensity ratio of interlocking loops determines circadian period length
Yan, J; Shi, GS; Zhang, ZH; Wu, X; Liu, ZW; Xing, LJ; Qu, ZP; Dong, Z; Yang, L; Xu, Y
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 10278-10287
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Circadian clocks allow organisms to orchestrate the daily rhythms in physiology and behaviors, and disruption of circadian rhythmicity can profoundly affect fitness. The mammalian circadian oscillator consists of a negative primary feedback loop and is associated with some 'auxiliary' loops. This raises the questions of how these interlocking loops coordinate to regulate the period and maintain its robustness. Here, we focused on the REV-ERB alpha/Cry1 auxiliary loop, consisting of Rev-Erb alpha/ROR-binding elements (RORE) mediated Cry1 transcription, coordinates with the negative primary feedback loop to modulate the mammalian circadian period. The silicon simulation revealed an unexpected rule: the intensity ratio of the primary loop to the auxiliary loop is inversely related to the period length, even when post-translational feedback is fixed. Then we measured the mRNA levels from two loops in 10-mutant mice and observed the similar monotonic relationship...

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...

Predicting DNA methylation level across human tissues
Ma, BS; Wilker, EH; Willis-Owen, SAG; Byun, HM; Wong, KCC; Motta, V; Baccarelli, AA; Schwartz, J; Cookson, WOCM; Khabbaz, K; Mittleman, MA; Moffatt, MF; Liang, LM
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 3515-3528
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Differences in methylation across tissues are critical to cell differentiation and are key to understanding the role of epigenetics in complex diseases. In this investigation, we found that locus-specific methylation differences between tissues are highly consistent across individuals. We developed a novel statistical model to predict locus-specific methylation in target tissue based on methylation in surrogate tissue. The method was evaluated in publicly available data and in two studies using the latest IlluminaBeadChips: a childhood asthma study with methylation measured in both peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) and lymphoblastoid cell lines; and a study of postoperative atrial fibrillation with methylation in PBL, atrium and artery. We found that our method can greatly improve accuracy of cross-tissue prediction at CpG sites that are variable in the target tissue [R-2 increases from 0.38 (original R-2 between tissues) to 0.89 for PBL-to-artery prediction; from 0.39 to 0.95 for PBL-to-atrium; and from 0.81 to 0.98 for lymphoblastoid cell line-to-PBL based on cross-validation, and confirmed using cross-study prediction]

A high-resolution network model for global gene regulation in Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Peterson, EJR; Reiss, DJ; Turkarslan, S; Minch, KJ; Rustad, T; Plaisier, CL; Longabaugh, WJR; Sherman, DR; Baliga, NS
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 11291-11303
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The resilience of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) is largely due to its ability to effectively counteract and even take advantage of the hostile environments of a host. In order to accelerate the discovery and characterization of these adaptive mechanisms, we have mined a compendium of 2325 publicly available transcriptome profiles of MTB to decipher a predictive, systems-scale gene regulatory network model. The resulting modular organization of 98% of all MTB genes within this regulatory network was rigorously tested using two independently generated datasets: a genome-wide map of 7248 DNA-binding locations for 143 transcription factors (TFs) and global transcriptional consequences of over-expressing 206 TFs. This analysis has discovered specific TFs that mediate conditional co-regulation of genes within 240 modules across 14 distinct environmental contexts. In addition to recapitulating previously characterized regulons, we discovered 454 novel mechanisms for gene regulation during stress, cholesterol utilization and dormancy...

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...

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...

Prediction of DNA binding motifs from 3D models of transcription factors; identifying TLX3 regulated genes
Pujato, M; Kieken, F; Skiles, AA; Tapinos, N; Fiser, A
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 13500-13512
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Proper cell functioning depends on the precise spatio-temporal expression of its genetic material. Gene expression is controlled to a great extent by sequence-specific transcription factors (TFs). Our current knowledge on where and how TFs bind and associate to regulate gene expression is incomplete. A structure-based computational algorithm (TF2DNA) is developed to identify binding specificities of TFs. The method constructs homology models of TFs bound to DNA and assesses the relative binding affinity for all possible DNA sequences using a knowledge-based potential, after optimization in a molecular mechanics force field. TF2DNA predictions were benchmarked against experimentally determined binding motifs. Success rates range from 45% to 81% and primarily depend on the sequence identity of aligned target sequences and template structures, TF2DNA was used to predict 1321 motifs for 1825 putative human TF proteins, facilitating the reconstruction of most of the human gene regulatory network. As an illustration, the predicted DNA binding site for the poorly characterized T-cell leukemia homeobox 3 (TLX3) TF was confirmed with gel shift assay experiments...

Multiple novel promoter-architectures revealed by decoding the hidden heterogeneity within the genome
Narlikar, L
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 12388-12403
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An important question in biology is how different promoter-architectures contribute to the diversity in regulation of transcription initiation. A step forward has been the production of genome-wide maps of transcription start sites (TSSs) using high-throughput sequencing. However, the subsequent step of characterizing promoters and their functions is still largely done on the basis of previously established promoter-elements like the TATA-box in eukaryotes or the -10 box in bacteria. Unfortunately, a majority of promoters and their activities cannot be explained by these few elements. Traditional motif discovery methods that identify novel elements also fail here, because TSS neighborhoods are often highly heterogeneous containing no overrepresented motif. We present a new, organism-independent method that explicitly models this heterogeneity while unraveling different promoter-architectures. For example, in five bacteria, we detect the presence of a pyrimidine preceding the TSS under very specific circumstances. In tuberculosis, we show for the first time that the spacing between the bacterial 10-motif and TSS is utilized by the pathogen for dynamic gene-regulation...

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