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Development of new computational methods for a synthetic gene set annotation

  • Ayllón-Benítez, Aarón
Publication Date
Dec 05, 2019
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The revolution in new sequencing technologies, by strongly improving the production of omics data, is greatly leading to new understandings of the relations between genotype and phenotype. To interpret and analyze data grouped according to a phenotype of interest, methods based on statistical enrichment became a standard in biology. However, these methods synthesize the biological information by a priori selecting the over-represented terms and focus on the most studied genes that may represent a limited coverage of annotated genes within a gene set. During this thesis, we explored different methods for annotating gene sets. In this frame, we developed three studies allowing the annotation of gene sets and thus improving the understanding of their biological context.First, visualization approaches were applied to represent annotation results provided by enrichment analysis for a gene set or a repertoire of gene sets. In this work, a visualization prototype called MOTVIS (MOdular Term VISualization) has been developed to provide an interactive representation of a repertoire of gene sets combining two visual metaphors: a treemap view that provides an overview and also displays detailed information about gene sets, and an indented tree view that can be used to focus on the annotation terms of interest. MOTVIS has the advantage to solve the limitations of each visual metaphor when used individually. This illustrates the interest of using different visual metaphors to facilitate the comprehension of biological results by representing complex data.Secondly, to address the issues of enrichment analysis, a new method for analyzing the impact of using different semantic similarity measures on gene set annotation was proposed. To evaluate the impact of each measure, two relevant criteria were considered for characterizing a “good” synthetic gene set annotation: (i) the number of annotation terms has to be drastically reduced while maintaining a sufficient level of details, and (ii) the number of genes described by the selected terms should be as large as possible. Thus, nine semantic similarity measures were analyzed to identify the best possible compromise between both criteria while maintaining a sufficient level of details. Using Gene Ontology (GO) to annotate the gene sets, we observed better results with node-based measures that use the terms’ characteristics than with edge-based measures that use the relations terms. The annotation of the gene sets achieved with the node-based measures did not exhibit major differences regardlessof the characteristics of the terms used. Then, we developed GSAn (Gene Set Annotation), a novel gene set annotation web server that uses semantic similarity measures to synthesize a priori GO annotation terms. GSAn contains the interactive visualization MOTVIS, dedicated to visualize the representative terms of gene set annotations. Compared to enrichment analysis tools, GSAn has shown excellent results in terms of maximizing the gene coverage while minimizing the number of terms.At last, the third work consisted in enriching the annotation results provided by GSAn. Since the knowledge described in GO may not be sufficient for interpreting gene sets, other biological information, such as pathways and diseases, may be useful to provide a wider biological context. Thus, two additional knowledge resources, being Reactome and Disease Ontology (DO), were integrated within GSAn. In practice, GO terms were mapped to terms of Reactome and DO, before and after applying the GSAn method. The integration of these resources improved the results in terms of gene coverage without affecting significantly the number of involved terms. Two strategies were applied to find mappings (generated or extracted from the web) between each new resource and GO. We have shown that a mapping process before computing the GSAn method allowed to obtain a larger number of inter-relations between the two knowledge resources.

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