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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Ensemble-based prediction of RNA secondary structures

Nima Aghaeepour1 and Holger H Hoos2*

Author Affiliations

1 Terry Fox Laboratory, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, BC, V5Z 1L3, Canada

2 Department of Computer Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-139

Published: 24 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Accurate structure prediction methods play an important role for the understanding of RNA function. Energy-based, pseudoknot-free secondary structure prediction is one of the most widely used and versatile approaches, and improved methods for this task have received much attention over the past five years. Despite the impressive progress that as been achieved in this area, existing evaluations of the prediction accuracy achieved by various algorithms do not provide a comprehensive, statistically sound assessment. Furthermore, while there is increasing evidence that no prediction algorithm consistently outperforms all others, no work has been done to exploit the complementary strengths of multiple approaches.

Results

In this work, we present two contributions to the area of RNA secondary structure prediction. Firstly, we use state-of-the-art, resampling-based statistical methods together with a previously published and increasingly widely used dataset of high-quality RNA structures to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of existing RNA secondary structure prediction procedures. The results from this evaluation clarify the performance relationship between ten well-known existing energy-based pseudoknot-free RNA secondary structure prediction methods and clearly demonstrate the progress that has been achieved in recent years. Secondly, we introduce AveRNA, a generic and powerful method for combining a set of existing secondary structure prediction procedures into an ensemble-based method that achieves significantly higher prediction accuracies than obtained from any of its component procedures.

Conclusions

Our new, ensemble-based method, AveRNA, improves the state of the art for energy-based, pseudoknot-free RNA secondary structure prediction by exploiting the complementary strengths of multiple existing prediction procedures, as demonstrated using a state-of-the-art statistical resampling approach. In addition, AveRNA allows an intuitive and effective control of the trade-off between false negative and false positive base pair predictions. Finally, AveRNA can make use of arbitrary sets of secondary structure prediction procedures and can therefore be used to leverage improvements in prediction accuracy offered by algorithms and energy models developed in the future. Our data, MATLAB software and a web-based version of AveRNA are publicly available at http://www.cs.ubc.ca/labs/beta/Software/AveRNA webcite.