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BMC Bioinformatics. 2008 Apr 15;9:198. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-9-198.

Improving protein function prediction methods with integrated literature data.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, MS 8303, RC-1 South, 12801 East 17th Avenue, L18-6101, PO Box 6511, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.



Determining the function of uncharacterized proteins is a major challenge in the post-genomic era due to the problem's complexity and scale. Identifying a protein's function contributes to an understanding of its role in the involved pathways, its suitability as a drug target, and its potential for protein modifications. Several graph-theoretic approaches predict unidentified functions of proteins by using the functional annotations of better-characterized proteins in protein-protein interaction networks. We systematically consider the use of literature co-occurrence data, introduce a new method for quantifying the reliability of co-occurrence and test how performance differs across species. We also quantify changes in performance as the prediction algorithms annotate with increased specificity.


We find that including information on the co-occurrence of proteins within an abstract greatly boosts performance in the Functional Flow graph-theoretic function prediction algorithm in yeast, fly and worm. This increase in performance is not simply due to the presence of additional edges since supplementing protein-protein interactions with co-occurrence data outperforms supplementing with a comparably-sized genetic interaction dataset. Through the combination of protein-protein interactions and co-occurrence data, the neighborhood around unknown proteins is quickly connected to well-characterized nodes which global prediction algorithms can exploit. Our method for quantifying co-occurrence reliability shows superior performance to the other methods, particularly at threshold values around 10% which yield the best trade off between coverage and accuracy. In contrast, the traditional way of asserting co-occurrence when at least one abstract mentions both proteins proves to be the worst method for generating co-occurrence data, introducing too many false positives. Annotating the functions with greater specificity is harder, but co-occurrence data still proves beneficial.


Co-occurrence data is a valuable supplemental source for graph-theoretic function prediction algorithms. A rapidly growing literature corpus ensures that co-occurrence data is a readily-available resource for nearly every studied organism, particularly those with small protein interaction databases. Though arguably biased toward known genes, co-occurrence data provides critical additional links to well-studied regions in the interaction network that graph-theoretic function prediction algorithms can exploit.

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