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Open Access Research article

MultiRTA: A simple yet reliable method for predicting peptide binding affinities for multiple class II MHC allotypes

Andrew J Bordner1* and Hans D Mittelmann2

Author Affiliations

1 Mayo Clinic, 13400 East Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85259, USA

2 School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 871804, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:482  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-482

Published: 24 September 2010

Abstract

Background

The binding of peptide fragments of antigens to class II MHC is a crucial step in initiating a helper T cell immune response. The identification of such peptide epitopes has potential applications in vaccine design and in better understanding autoimmune diseases and allergies. However, comprehensive experimental determination of peptide-MHC binding affinities is infeasible due to MHC diversity and the large number of possible peptide sequences. Computational methods trained on the limited experimental binding data can address this challenge. We present the MultiRTA method, an extension of our previous single-type RTA prediction method, which allows the prediction of peptide binding affinities for multiple MHC allotypes not used to train the model. Thus predictions can be made for many MHC allotypes for which experimental binding data is unavailable.

Results

We fit MultiRTA models for both HLA-DR and HLA-DP using large experimental binding data sets. The performance in predicting binding affinities for novel MHC allotypes, not in the training set, was tested in two different ways. First, we performed leave-one-allele-out cross-validation, in which predictions are made for one allotype using a model fit to binding data for the remaining MHC allotypes. Comparison of the HLA-DR results with those of two other prediction methods applied to the same data sets showed that MultiRTA achieved performance comparable to NetMHCIIpan and better than the earlier TEPITOPE method. We also directly tested model transferability by making leave-one-allele-out predictions for additional experimentally characterized sets of overlapping peptide epitopes binding to multiple MHC allotypes. In addition, we determined the applicability of prediction methods like MultiRTA to other MHC allotypes by examining the degree of MHC variation accounted for in the training set. An examination of predictions for the promiscuous binding CLIP peptide revealed variations in binding affinity among alleles as well as potentially distinct binding registers for HLA-DR and HLA-DP. Finally, we analyzed the optimal MultiRTA parameters to discover the most important peptide residues for promiscuous and allele-specific binding to HLA-DR and HLA-DP allotypes.

Conclusions

The MultiRTA method yields competitive performance but with a significantly simpler and physically interpretable model compared with previous prediction methods. A MultiRTA prediction webserver is available at http://bordnerlab.org/MultiRTA webcite.