Open Access Open Badges Research article

Development and application of a modified dynamic time warping algorithm (DTW-S) to analyses of primate brain expression time series

Yuan Yuan12*, Yi-Ping Phoebe Chen2*, Shengyu Ni1, Augix Guohua Xu13, Lin Tang1, Martin Vingron4, Mehmet Somel13 and Philipp Khaitovich13*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory for Computational Biology, CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 320 Yue Yang Road, Shanghai 200031, China

2 Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC 3086, Australia

3 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

4 Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Ihnestrasse 63-73, D-14195 Berlin, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:347  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-347

Published: 18 August 2011



Comparing biological time series data across different conditions, or different specimens, is a common but still challenging task. Algorithms aligning two time series represent a valuable tool for such comparisons. While many powerful computation tools for time series alignment have been developed, they do not provide significance estimates for time shift measurements.


Here, we present an extended version of the original DTW algorithm that allows us to determine the significance of time shift estimates in time series alignments, the DTW-Significance (DTW-S) algorithm. The DTW-S combines important properties of the original algorithm and other published time series alignment tools: DTW-S calculates the optimal alignment for each time point of each gene, it uses interpolated time points for time shift estimation, and it does not require alignment of the time-series end points. As a new feature, we implement a simulation procedure based on parameters estimated from real time series data, on a series-by-series basis, allowing us to determine the false positive rate (FPR) and the significance of the estimated time shift values. We assess the performance of our method using simulation data and real expression time series from two published primate brain expression datasets. Our results show that this method can provide accurate and robust time shift estimates for each time point on a gene-by-gene basis. Using these estimates, we are able to uncover novel features of the biological processes underlying human brain development and maturation.


The DTW-S provides a convenient tool for calculating accurate and robust time shift estimates at each time point for each gene, based on time series data. The estimates can be used to uncover novel biological features of the system being studied. The DTW-S is freely available as an R package TimeShift at webcite.