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BMC Bioinformatics. 2012 Mar 21;13 Suppl 3:S2. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-13-S3-S2.

Metabolic network alignment in large scale by network compression.

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Computer and Information Science and Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


Metabolic network alignment is a system scale comparative analysis that discovers important similarities and differences across different metabolisms and organisms. Although the problem of aligning metabolic networks has been considered in the past, the computational complexity of the existing solutions has so far limited their use to moderately sized networks. In this paper, we address the problem of aligning two metabolic networks, particularly when both of them are too large to be dealt with using existing methods. We develop a generic framework that can significantly improve the scale of the networks that can be aligned in practical time. Our framework has three major phases, namely the compression phase, the alignment phase and the refinement phase. For the first phase, we develop an algorithm which transforms the given networks to a compressed domain where they are summarized using fewer nodes, termed supernodes, and interactions. In the second phase, we carry out the alignment in the compressed domain using an existing network alignment method as our base algorithm. This alignment results in supernode mappings in the compressed domain, each of which are smaller instances of network alignment problem. In the third phase, we solve each of the instances using the base alignment algorithm to refine the alignment results. We provide a user defined parameter to control the number of compression levels which generally determines the tradeoff between the quality of the alignment versus how fast the algorithm runs. Our experiments on the networks from KEGG pathway database demonstrate that the compression method we propose reduces the sizes of metabolic networks by almost half at each compression level which provides an expected speedup of more than an order of magnitude. We also observe that the alignments obtained by only one level of compression capture the original alignment results with high accuracy. Together, these suggest that our framework results in alignments that are comparable to existing algorithms and can do this with practical resource utilization for large scale networks that existing algorithms could not handle. As an example of our method's performance in practice, the alignment of organism-wide metabolic networks of human (1615 reactions) and mouse (1600 reactions) was performed under three minutes by only using a single level of compression.

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