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Bioinformatics. 2019 Mar 21. pii: btz204. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btz204. [Epub ahead of print]

maTE: Discovering Expressed MicroRNA - Target Interactions.

Author information

Department of Community Information Systems, Zefat Academic College, Zefat, Israel.
Department of Information Systems, The Max Stern Yezreel Valley Academic College, Israel.
Applied Bioinformatics, Bioscience, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands.
Horticulture, Bioscience, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands.



Disease is often manifested via changes in transcript and protein abundance. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are instrumental in regulating protein abundance and may measurably influence transcript levels. MicroRNAs often target more than one mRNA (for humans, the average is three), and mRNAs are often targeted by more than one miRNA (for the genes considered in this study, the average is also three). Therefore, it is difficult to determine the miRNAs that may cause the observed differential gene expression.We present a novel approach, maTE, which is based on machine learning, that integrates information about miRNA target genes with gene expression data. maTE depends on the availability of a sufficient amount of patient and control samples. The samples are used to train classifiers to accurately classify the samples on a per miRNA basis. Multiple high scoring miRNAs are used to build a final classifier to improve separation.


The aim of the study is to find a set of miRNAs causing the regulation of their target genes that best explains the difference between groups (e.g., cancer vs. control). maTE provides a list of significant groups of genes where each group is targeted by a specific microRNA. For the datasets used in this study, maTE generally achieves an accuracy well above 80%. Also, the results show that when the accuracy is much lower (e.g., ∼50%), the set of miRNAs provided is likely not causative of the difference in expression.This new approach of integrating miRNA regulation with expression data yields powerful results and is independent of external labels and training data. Thereby, this approach allows new avenues for exploring miRNA regulation and may enable the development of miRNA-based biomarkers and drugs.


The KNIME workflow, implementing maTE, is available at Bioinformatics online.


Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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