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BMC Bioinformatics. 2006 Feb 16;7:74.

Spectral embedding finds meaningful (relevant) structure in image and microarray data.

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School of Computational Sciences, George Mason University, Manassas, VA 20110, USA.



Accurate methods for extraction of meaningful patterns in high dimensional data have become increasingly important with the recent generation of data types containing measurements across thousands of variables. Principal components analysis (PCA) is a linear dimensionality reduction (DR) method that is unsupervised in that it relies only on the data; projections are calculated in Euclidean or a similar linear space and do not use tuning parameters for optimizing the fit to the data. However, relationships within sets of nonlinear data types, such as biological networks or images, are frequently mis-rendered into a low dimensional space by linear methods. Nonlinear methods, in contrast, attempt to model important aspects of the underlying data structure, often requiring parameter(s) fitting to the data type of interest. In many cases, the optimal parameter values vary when different classification algorithms are applied on the same rendered subspace, making the results of such methods highly dependent upon the type of classifier implemented.


We present the results of applying the spectral method of Lafon, a nonlinear DR method based on the weighted graph Laplacian, that minimizes the requirements for such parameter optimization for two biological data types. We demonstrate that it is successful in determining implicit ordering of brain slice image data and in classifying separate species in microarray data, as compared to two conventional linear methods and three nonlinear methods (one of which is an alternative spectral method). This spectral implementation is shown to provide more meaningful information, by preserving important relationships, than the methods of DR presented for comparison. Tuning parameter fitting is simple and is a general, rather than data type or experiment specific approach, for the two datasets analyzed here. Tuning parameter optimization is minimized in the DR step to each subsequent classification method, enabling the possibility of valid cross-experiment comparisons.


Results from the spectral method presented here exhibit the desirable properties of preserving meaningful nonlinear relationships in lower dimensional space and requiring minimal parameter fitting, providing a useful algorithm for purposes of visualization and classification across diverse datasets, a common challenge in systems biology.

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