BMC bioinformatics

Pathway activity inference for multiclass disease classification through a mathematical programming optimisation framework.

PMID 25475756


Applying machine learning methods on microarray gene expression profiles for disease classification problems is a popular method to derive biomarkers, i.e. sets of genes that can predict disease state or outcome. Traditional approaches where expression of genes were treated independently suffer from low prediction accuracy and difficulty of biological interpretation. Current research efforts focus on integrating information on protein interactions through biochemical pathway datasets with expression profiles to propose pathway-based classifiers that can enhance disease diagnosis and prognosis. As most of the pathway activity inference methods in literature are either unsupervised or applied on two-class datasets, there is good scope to address such limitations by proposing novel methodologies. A supervised multiclass pathway activity inference method using optimisation techniques is reported. For each pathway expression dataset, patterns of its constituent genes are summarised into one composite feature, termed pathway activity, and a novel mathematical programming model is proposed to infer this feature as a weighted linear summation of expression of its constituent genes. Gene weights are determined by the optimisation model, in a way that the resulting pathway activity has the optimal discriminative power with regards to disease phenotypes. Classification is then performed on the resulting low-dimensional pathway activity profile. The model was evaluated through a variety of published gene expression profiles that cover different types of disease. We show that not only does it improve classification accuracy, but it can also perform well in multiclass disease datasets, a limitation of other approaches from the literature. Desirable features of the model include the ability to control the maximum number of genes that may participate in determining pathway activity, which may be pre-specified by the user. Overall, this work highlights the potential of building pathway-based multi-phenotype classifiers for accurate disease diagnosis and prognosis problems.