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PiiL: visualization of DNA methylation and gene expression data in gene pathways

  • Moghadam, Behrooz Torabi1
  • Zamani, Neda2, 3
  • Komorowski, Jan1, 4
  • Grabherr, Manfred2
  • 1 Uppsala University, Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Computational and Systems Biology, Uppsala, Sweden , Uppsala (Sweden)
  • 2 Uppsala University, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology/BILS, Genomics, Uppsala, Sweden , Uppsala (Sweden)
  • 3 Umeå University, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå, Sweden , Umeå (Sweden)
  • 4 Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Computer Science, Warsaw, 01248, Poland , Warsaw (Poland)
Published Article
BMC Genomics
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
Aug 02, 2017
DOI: 10.1186/s12864-017-3950-9
Springer Nature


BackgroundDNA methylation is a major mechanism involved in the epigenetic state of a cell. It has been observed that the methylation status of certain CpG sites close to or within a gene can directly affect its expression, either by silencing or, in some cases, up-regulating transcription. However, a vertebrate genome contains millions of CpG sites, all of which are potential targets for methylation, and the specific effects of most sites have not been characterized to date. To study the complex interplay between methylation status, cellular programs, and the resulting phenotypes, we present PiiL, an interactive gene expression pathway browser, facilitating analyses through an integrated view of methylation and expression on multiple levels.ResultsPiiL allows for specific hypothesis testing by quickly assessing pathways or gene networks, where the data is projected onto pathways that can be downloaded directly from the online KEGG database. PiiL provides a comprehensive set of analysis features that allow for quick and specific pattern searches. Individual CpG sites and their impact on host gene expression, as well as the impact on other genes present in the regulatory network, can be examined. To exemplify the power of this approach, we analyzed two types of brain tumors, Glioblastoma multiform and lower grade gliomas.ConclusionAt a glance, we could confirm earlier findings that the predominant methylation and expression patterns separate perfectly by mutations in the IDH genes, rather than by histology. We could also infer the IDH mutation status for samples for which the genotype was not known. By applying different filtering methods, we show that a subset of CpG sites exhibits consistent methylation patterns, and that the status of sites affect the expression of key regulator genes, as well as other genes located downstream in the same pathways.PiiL is implemented in Java with focus on a user-friendly graphical interface. The source code is available under the GPL license from

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