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BMC Bioinformatics. 2006 Apr 21;7:220.

Retrieval with gene queries.

Author information

  • 1Department of Computer Science, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52246, USA. aditya-sehgal@uiowa.edu



Accuracy of document retrieval from MEDLINE for gene queries is crucially important for many applications in bioinformatics. We explore five information retrieval-based methods to rank documents retrieved by PubMed gene queries for the human genome. The aim is to rank relevant documents higher in the retrieved list. We address the special challenges faced due to ambiguity in gene nomenclature: gene terms that refer to multiple genes, gene terms that are also English words, and gene terms that have other biological meanings.


Our two baseline ranking strategies are quite similar in performance. Two of our three LocusLink-based strategies offer significant improvements. These methods work very well even when there is ambiguity in the gene terms. Our best ranking strategy offers significant improvements on three different kinds of ambiguities over our two baseline strategies (improvements range from 15.9% to 17.7% and 11.7% to 13.3% depending on the baseline). For most genes the best ranking query is one that is built from the LocusLink (now Entrez Gene) summary and product information along with the gene names and aliases. For others, the gene names and aliases suffice. We also present an approach that successfully predicts, for a given gene, which of these two ranking queries is more appropriate.


We explore the effect of different post-retrieval strategies on the ranking of documents returned by PubMed for human gene queries. We have successfully applied some of these strategies to improve the ranking of relevant documents in the retrieved sets. This holds true even when various kinds of ambiguity are encountered. We feel that it would be very useful to apply strategies like ours on PubMed search results as these are not ordered by relevance in any way. This is especially so for queries that retrieve a large number of documents.

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