Open Access Research article

Assessing the functional coherence of modules found in multiple-evidence networks from Arabidopsis

Artem Lysenko12*, Michael Defoin-Platel1, Keywan Hassani-Pak1, Jan Taubert1, Charlie Hodgman2, Christopher J Rawlings1 and Mansoor Saqi1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Mathematical and Computational Biology, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Herts, AL5, 2JQ, UK

2 CPIB, Multidisciplinary Centre for Integrative Biology, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington, LE12 5RD, UK

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:203  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-203

Published: 25 May 2011



Combining multiple evidence-types from different information sources has the potential to reveal new relationships in biological systems. The integrated information can be represented as a relationship network, and clustering the network can suggest possible functional modules. The value of such modules for gaining insight into the underlying biological processes depends on their functional coherence. The challenges that we wish to address are to define and quantify the functional coherence of modules in relationship networks, so that they can be used to infer function of as yet unannotated proteins, to discover previously unknown roles of proteins in diseases as well as for better understanding of the regulation and interrelationship between different elements of complex biological systems.


We have defined the functional coherence of modules with respect to the Gene Ontology (GO) by considering two complementary aspects: (i) the fragmentation of the GO functional categories into the different modules and (ii) the most representative functions of the modules. We have proposed a set of metrics to evaluate these two aspects and demonstrated their utility in Arabidopsis thaliana. We selected 2355 proteins for which experimentally established protein-protein interaction (PPI) data were available. From these we have constructed five relationship networks, four based on single types of data: PPI, co-expression, co-occurrence of protein names in scientific literature abstracts and sequence similarity and a fifth one combining these four evidence types. The ability of these networks to suggest biologically meaningful grouping of proteins was explored by applying Markov clustering and then by measuring the functional coherence of the clusters.


Relationship networks integrating multiple evidence-types are biologically informative and allow more proteins to be assigned to a putative functional module. Using additional evidence types concentrates the functional annotations in a smaller number of modules without unduly compromising their consistency. These results indicate that integration of more data sources improves the ability to uncover functional association between proteins, both by allowing more proteins to be linked and producing a network where modular structure more closely reflects the hierarchy in the gene ontology.