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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Using Stochastic Causal Trees to Augment Bayesian Networks for Modeling eQTL Datasets

Kyle C Chipman1* and Ambuj K Singh12

Author Affiliations

1 Biomolecular Science and Engineering Program, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

2 Department of Computer Science, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:7  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-7

Published: 6 January 2011



The combination of genotypic and genome-wide expression data arising from segregating populations offers an unprecedented opportunity to model and dissect complex phenotypes. The immense potential offered by these data derives from the fact that genotypic variation is the sole source of perturbation and can therefore be used to reconcile changes in gene expression programs with the parental genotypes. To date, several methodologies have been developed for modeling eQTL data. These methods generally leverage genotypic data to resolve causal relationships among gene pairs implicated as associates in the expression data. In particular, leading studies have augmented Bayesian networks with genotypic data, providing a powerful framework for learning and modeling causal relationships. While these initial efforts have provided promising results, one major drawback associated with these methods is that they are generally limited to resolving causal orderings for transcripts most proximal to the genomic loci. In this manuscript, we present a probabilistic method capable of learning the causal relationships between transcripts at all levels in the network. We use the information provided by our method as a prior for Bayesian network structure learning, resulting in enhanced performance for gene network reconstruction.


Using established protocols to synthesize eQTL networks and corresponding data, we show that our method achieves improved performance over existing leading methods. For the goal of gene network reconstruction, our method achieves improvements in recall ranging from 20% to 90% across a broad range of precision levels and for datasets of varying sample sizes. Additionally, we show that the learned networks can be utilized for expression quantitative trait loci mapping, resulting in upwards of 10-fold increases in recall over traditional univariate mapping.


Using the information from our method as a prior for Bayesian network structure learning yields large improvements in accuracy for the tasks of gene network reconstruction and expression quantitative trait loci mapping. In particular, our method is effective for establishing causal relationships between transcripts located both proximally and distally from genomic loci.