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Statistical Applications in Genetics and Molecular Biology

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Calculating the Statistical Significance of Changes in Pathway Activity From Gene Expression Data

Jörg Rahnenführer / Francisco S Domingues / Jochen Maydt / Thomas Lengauer
Published Online: 2004-06-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2202/1544-6115.1055

We present a statistical approach to scoring changes in activity of metabolic pathways from gene expression data. The method identifies the biologically relevant pathways with corresponding statistical significance. Based on gene expression data alone, only local structures of genetic networks can be recovered. Instead of inferring such a network, we propose a hypothesis-based approach. We use given knowledge about biological networks to improve sensitivity and interpretability of findings from microarray experiments.

Recently introduced methods test if members of predefined gene sets are enriched in a list of top-ranked genes in a microarray study. We improve this approach by defining scores that depend on all members of the gene set and that also take pairwise co-regulation of these genes into account. We calculate the significance of co-regulation of gene sets with a nonparametric permutation test. On two data sets the method is validated and its biological relevance is discussed. It turns out that useful measures for co-regulation of genes in a pathway can be identified adaptively.

We refine our method in two aspects specific to pathways. First, to overcome the ambiguity of enzyme-to-gene mappings for a fixed pathway, we introduce algorithms for selecting the best fitting gene for a specific enzyme in a specific condition. In selected cases, functional assignment of genes to pathways is feasible. Second, the sensitivity of detecting relevant pathways is improved by integrating information about pathway topology. The distance of two enzymes is measured by the number of reactions needed to connect them, and enzyme pairs with a smaller distance receive a higher weight in the score calculation.

Keywords: microarray; gene expression; metabolic pathways; KEGG database; nonparametric permutation test

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Published Online: 2004-06-22

Citation Information: Statistical Applications in Genetics and Molecular Biology, ISSN (Online) 1544-6115, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2202/1544-6115.1055.

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