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Bioinformatics. 2001 Sep;17(9):763-74.

Principal component analysis for clustering gene expression data.

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Computer Science and Engineering, Box 352350, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.



There is a great need to develop analytical methodology to analyze and to exploit the information contained in gene expression data. Because of the large number of genes and the complexity of biological networks, clustering is a useful exploratory technique for analysis of gene expression data. Other classical techniques, such as principal component analysis (PCA), have also been applied to analyze gene expression data. Using different data analysis techniques and different clustering algorithms to analyze the same data set can lead to very different conclusions. Our goal is to study the effectiveness of principal components (PCs) in capturing cluster structure. Specifically, using both real and synthetic gene expression data sets, we compared the quality of clusters obtained from the original data to the quality of clusters obtained after projecting onto subsets of the principal component axes.


Our empirical study showed that clustering with the PCs instead of the original variables does not necessarily improve, and often degrades, cluster quality. In particular, the first few PCs (which contain most of the variation in the data) do not necessarily capture most of the cluster structure. We also showed that clustering with PCs has different impact on different algorithms and different similarity metrics. Overall, we would not recommend PCA before clustering except in special circumstances.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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