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Bioinformatics. 2006 Jan 15;22(2):157-63. Epub 2005 Nov 2.

Sequence features of DNA binding sites reveal structural class of associated transcription factor.

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  • 1Duke University, Department of Computer Science Box 90129, Durham, NC 27708, USA.



A key goal in molecular biology is to understand the mechanisms by which a cell regulates the transcription of its genes. One important aspect of this transcriptional regulation is the binding of transcription factors (TFs) to their specific cis-regulatory counterparts on the DNA. TFs recognize and bind their DNA counterparts according to the structure of their DNA-binding domains (e.g. zinc finger, leucine zipper, homeodomain). The structure of these domains can be used as a basis for grouping TFs into classes. Although the structure of DNA-binding domains varies widely across TFs generally, the TFs within a particular class bind to DNA in a similar fashion, suggesting the existence of class-specific features in the DNA sequences bound by each class of TFs.


In this paper, we apply a sparse Bayesian learning algorithm to identify a small set of class-specific features in the DNA sequences bound by different classes of TFs; the algorithm simultaneously learns a true multi-class classifier that uses these features to predict the DNA-binding domain of the TF that recognizes a particular set of DNA sequences. We train our algorithm on the six largest classes in TRANSFAC, comprising a total of 587 TFs. We learn a six-class classifier for this training set that achieves 87% leave-one-out cross-validation accuracy. We also identify features within cis-regulatory sequences that are highly specific to each class of TF, which has significant implications for how TF binding sites should be modeled for the purpose of motif discovery.

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