Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Predicting RNA-Protein Interactions Using Only Sequence Information

Usha K Muppirala12*, Vasant G Honavar13 and Drena Dobbs12

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA

2 Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA

3 Department of Computer Science, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:489  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-489

Published: 22 December 2011



RNA-protein interactions (RPIs) play important roles in a wide variety of cellular processes, ranging from transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression to host defense against pathogens. High throughput experiments to identify RNA-protein interactions are beginning to provide valuable information about the complexity of RNA-protein interaction networks, but are expensive and time consuming. Hence, there is a need for reliable computational methods for predicting RNA-protein interactions.


We propose RPISeq, a family of classifiers for predicting RNA-protein interactions using only sequence information. Given the sequences of an RNA and a protein as input, RPIseq predicts whether or not the RNA-protein pair interact. The RNA sequence is encoded as a normalized vector of its ribonucleotide 4-mer composition, and the protein sequence is encoded as a normalized vector of its 3-mer composition, based on a 7-letter reduced alphabet representation. Two variants of RPISeq are presented: RPISeq-SVM, which uses a Support Vector Machine (SVM) classifier and RPISeq-RF, which uses a Random Forest classifier. On two non-redundant benchmark datasets extracted from the Protein-RNA Interface Database (PRIDB), RPISeq achieved an AUC (Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve) of 0.96 and 0.92. On a third dataset containing only mRNA-protein interactions, the performance of RPISeq was competitive with that of a published method that requires information regarding many different features (e.g., mRNA half-life, GO annotations) of the putative RNA and protein partners. In addition, RPISeq classifiers trained using the PRIDB data correctly predicted the majority (57-99%) of non-coding RNA-protein interactions in NPInter-derived networks from E. coli, S. cerevisiae, D. melanogaster, M. musculus, and H. sapiens.


Our experiments with RPISeq demonstrate that RNA-protein interactions can be reliably predicted using only sequence-derived information. RPISeq offers an inexpensive method for computational construction of RNA-protein interaction networks, and should provide useful insights into the function of non-coding RNAs. RPISeq is freely available as a web-based server at webcite