Integration of Differential Gene-combination Search and Gene Set Enrichment Analysis: A General Approach

Date of Submission: 
December 30, 2009
Report Number: 
Report PDF: 

Motivation: Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) and its variations aim to discover collections of genes that show moderate but coordinated differences in expression. However, such techniques may be ineffective if many individual genes in a phenotype-related gene set have weak discriminative power. A potential solution is to search for combinations of genes that are highly differentiating even when individual genes are not. Although such techniques have been developed, these approaches have not been used with GSEA to any significant degree because of the large number of potential gene combinations and the heterogeneity of measures that assess the differentiation provided by gene groups of different sizes.

Results: To integrate the search for differentiating gene combinations and GSEA, we propose a general framework with two key components: (A) a procedure that reduces the number of scores to be handled by GSEA to the number of genes by summarizing the scores of the gene combinations involving a particular gene in a single score, and (B) a procedure to integrate the heterogeneous scores from combinations of different sizes and from different gene combination measures by mapping the scores to p-values. Experiments on four gene expression data sets demonstrate that the integration of GSEA and gene combination search can enhance the power of traditional GSEA by discovering gene sets that include genes with weak individual differentiation but strong joint discriminative power. Also, gene sets discovered by the integrative framework share several common biological processes and improve the consistency of the results among three lung cancer data sets.

Availability: Source code and datasets: