Open Access Open Badges Methodology article

β-empirical Bayes inference and model diagnosis of microarray data

Mohammad Manir Hossain Mollah1*, M Nurul Haque Mollah2 and Hirohisa Kishino1*

Author Affiliations

1 Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8657, Japan

2 Department of Statistics, University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi-6205, Bangladesh

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:135  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-135

Published: 19 June 2012



Microarray data enables the high-throughput survey of mRNA expression profiles at the genomic level; however, the data presents a challenging statistical problem because of the large number of transcripts with small sample sizes that are obtained. To reduce the dimensionality, various Bayesian or empirical Bayes hierarchical models have been developed. However, because of the complexity of the microarray data, no model can explain the data fully. It is generally difficult to scrutinize the irregular patterns of expression that are not expected by the usual statistical gene by gene models.


As an extension of empirical Bayes (EB) procedures, we have developed the β-empirical Bayes (β-EB) approach based on a β-likelihood measure which can be regarded as an ’evidence-based’ weighted (quasi-) likelihood inference. The weight of a transcript t is described as a power function of its likelihood, fβ(yt|θ). Genes with low likelihoods have unexpected expression patterns and low weights. By assigning low weights to outliers, the inference becomes robust. The value of β, which controls the balance between the robustness and efficiency, is selected by maximizing the predictive β0-likelihood by cross-validation. The proposed β-EB approach identified six significant (p < 10−5) contaminated transcripts as differentially expressed (DE) in normal/tumor tissues from the head and neck of cancer patients. These six genes were all confirmed to be related to cancer; they were not identified as DE genes by the classical EB approach. When applied to the eQTL analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana, the proposed β-EB approach identified some potential master regulators that were missed by the EB approach.


The simulation data and real gene expression data showed that the proposed β-EB method was robust against outliers. The distribution of the weights was used to scrutinize the irregular patterns of expression and diagnose the model statistically. When β-weights outside the range of the predicted distribution were observed, a detailed inspection of the data was carried out. The β-weights described here can be applied to other likelihood-based statistical models for diagnosis, and may serve as a useful tool for transcriptome and proteome studies.