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BMC Bioinformatics. 2019 Apr 27;20(1):212. doi: 10.1186/s12859-019-2746-0.

Topological and functional comparison of community detection algorithms in biological networks.

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Departments of Bioengineering and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA.
Department of Bioengineering and San Diego Supercomputer Center, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA.
Department of Bioengineering, Departments of Computer Science and Engineering, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and the Graduate Program in Bioinformatics, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA.



Community detection algorithms are fundamental tools to uncover important features in networks. There are several studies focused on social networks but only a few deal with biological networks. Directly or indirectly, most of the methods maximize modularity, a measure of the density of links within communities as compared to links between communities.


Here we analyze six different community detection algorithms, namely, Combo, Conclude, Fast Greedy, Leading Eigen, Louvain and Spinglass, on two important biological networks to find their communities and evaluate the results in terms of topological and functional features through Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes pathway and Gene Ontology term enrichment analysis. At a high level, the main assessment criteria are 1) appropriate community size (neither too small nor too large), 2) representation within the community of only one or two broad biological functions, 3) most genes from the network belonging to a pathway should also belong to only one or two communities, and 4) performance speed. The first network in this study is a network of Protein-Protein Interactions (PPI) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Yeast) with 6532 nodes and 229,696 edges and the second is a network of PPI in Homo sapiens (Human) with 20,644 nodes and 241,008 edges. All six methods perform well, i.e., find reasonably sized and biologically interpretable communities, for the Yeast PPI network but the Conclude method does not find reasonably sized communities for the Human PPI network. Louvain method maximizes modularity by using an agglomerative approach, and is the fastest method for community detection. For the Yeast PPI network, the results of Spinglass method are most similar to the results of Louvain method with regard to the size of communities and core pathways they identify, whereas for the Human PPI network, Combo and Spinglass methods yield the most similar results, with Louvain being the next closest.


For Yeast and Human PPI networks, Louvain method is likely the best method to find communities in terms of detecting known core pathways in a reasonable time.


Biological function; Biological networks; Community detection; Modularity; Pathways

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