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Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Mar;38(4):e27. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp1116. Epub 2009 Dec 6.

Optimization of the BLASTN substitution matrix for prediction of non-specific DNA microarray hybridization.

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  • 1Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Technical University of Denmark, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark.


DNA microarray measurements are susceptible to error caused by non-specific hybridization between a probe and a target (cross-hybridization), or between two targets (bulk-hybridization). Search algorithms such as BLASTN can quickly identify potentially hybridizing sequences. We set out to improve BLASTN accuracy by modifying the substitution matrix and gap penalties. We generated gene expression microarray data for samples in which 1 or 10% of the target mass was an exogenous spike of known sequence. We found that the 10% spike induced 2-fold intensity changes in 3% of the probes, two-third of which were decreases in intensity likely caused by bulk-hybridization. These changes were correlated with similarity between the spike and probe sequences. Interestingly, even very weak similarities tended to induce a change in probe intensity with the 10% spike. Using this data, we optimized the BLASTN substitution matrix to more accurately identify probes susceptible to non-specific hybridization with the spike. Relative to the default substitution matrix, the optimized matrix features a decreased score for A-T base pairs relative to G-C base pairs, resulting in a 5-15% increase in area under the ROC curve for identifying affected probes. This optimized matrix may be useful in the design of microarray probes, and in other BLASTN-based searches for hybridization partners.

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