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Open Access Methodology article

Structuring heterogeneous biological information using fuzzy clustering of k-partite graphs

Mara L Hartsperger1*, Florian Blöchl1, Volker Stümpflen1 and Fabian J Theis12*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology (MIPS), Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany

2 Department of Mathematical Science, Technische Universität München, Boltzmannstr. 3, 85748 Garching, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:522  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-522

Published: 20 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Extensive and automated data integration in bioinformatics facilitates the construction of large, complex biological networks. However, the challenge lies in the interpretation of these networks. While most research focuses on the unipartite or bipartite case, we address the more general but common situation of k-partite graphs. These graphs contain k different node types and links are only allowed between nodes of different types. In order to reveal their structural organization and describe the contained information in a more coarse-grained fashion, we ask how to detect clusters within each node type.

Results

Since entities in biological networks regularly have more than one function and hence participate in more than one cluster, we developed a k-partite graph partitioning algorithm that allows for overlapping (fuzzy) clusters. It determines for each node a degree of membership to each cluster. Moreover, the algorithm estimates a weighted k-partite graph that connects the extracted clusters. Our method is fast and efficient, mimicking the multiplicative update rules commonly employed in algorithms for non-negative matrix factorization. It facilitates the decomposition of networks on a chosen scale and therefore allows for analysis and interpretation of structures on various resolution levels. Applying our algorithm to a tripartite disease-gene-protein complex network, we were able to structure this graph on a large scale into clusters that are functionally correlated and biologically meaningful. Locally, smaller clusters enabled reclassification or annotation of the clusters' elements. We exemplified this for the transcription factor MECP2.

Conclusions

In order to cope with the overwhelming amount of information available from biomedical literature, we need to tackle the challenge of finding structures in large networks with nodes of multiple types. To this end, we presented a novel fuzzy k-partite graph partitioning algorithm that allows the decomposition of these objects in a comprehensive fashion. We validated our approach both on artificial and real-world data. It is readily applicable to any further problem.