Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Bioinformatics and BioMed Central.

This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the 2009 AMIA Summit on Translational Bioinformatics

Open Access Proceedings

Mechanism-anchored profiling derived from epigenetic networks predicts outcome in acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Xinan Yang1, Yong Huang1, James L Chen1, Jianming Xie2, Xiao Sun2 and Yves A Lussier134*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Biomedical Informatics and Section of Genetic Medicine, Department of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

2 State Key Laboratory of Bioelectronics, Southeast University, 210096 Nanjing, PR China

3 The University of Chicago Cancer Research Center, and The Ludwig Center for Metastasis Research, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

4 The Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology, and the Computational Institute, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Bioinformatics 2009, 10(Suppl 9):S6  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-10-S9-S6

Published: 17 September 2009



Current outcome predictors based on "molecular profiling" rely on gene lists selected without consideration for their molecular mechanisms. This study was designed to demonstrate that we could learn about genes related to a specific mechanism and further use this knowledge to predict outcome in patients – a paradigm shift towards accurate "mechanism-anchored profiling". We propose a novel algorithm, PGnet, which predicts a tripartite mechanism-anchored network associated to epigenetic regulation consisting of phenotypes, genes and mechanisms. Genes termed as GEMs in this network meet all of the following criteria: (i) they are co-expressed with genes known to be involved in the biological mechanism of interest, (ii) they are also differentially expressed between distinct phenotypes relevant to the study, and (iii) as a biomodule, genes correlate with both the mechanism and the phenotype.


This proof-of-concept study, which focuses on epigenetic mechanisms, was conducted in a well-studied set of 132 acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) microarrays annotated with nine distinct phenotypes and three measures of response to therapy. We used established parametric and non parametric statistics to derive the PGnet tripartite network that consisted of 10 phenotypes and 33 significant clusters of GEMs comprising 535 distinct genes. The significance of PGnet was estimated from empirical p-values, and a robust subnetwork derived from ALL outcome data was produced by repeated random sampling. The evaluation of derived robust network to predict outcome (relapse of ALL) was significant (p = 3%), using one hundred three-fold cross-validations and the shrunken centroids classifier.


To our knowledge, this is the first method predicting co-expression networks of genes associated with epigenetic mechanisms and to demonstrate its inherent capability to predict therapeutic outcome. This PGnet approach can be applied to any regulatory mechanisms including transcriptional or microRNA regulation in order to derive predictive molecular profiles that are mechanistically anchored. The implementation of PGnet in R is freely available at webcite.