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Open Access Open Badges Research article

A resource-saving collective approach to biomedical semantic role labeling

Richard Tzong-Han Tsai1* and Po-Ting Lai23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering, National Central University, Taoyuan, Taiwan, Republic of China

2 Department of Computer Science, National Tsing-Hua University, HsinChu, Taiwan, Republic of China

3 Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:160  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-160

Published: 27 May 2014



Biomedical semantic role labeling (BioSRL) is a natural language processing technique that identifies the semantic roles of the words or phrases in sentences describing biological processes and expresses them as predicate-argument structures (PAS’s). Currently, a major problem of BioSRL is that most systems label every node in a full parse tree independently; however, some nodes always exhibit dependency. In general SRL, collective approaches based on the Markov logic network (MLN) model have been successful in dealing with this problem. However, in BioSRL such an approach has not been attempted because it would require more training data to recognize the more specialized and diverse terms found in biomedical literature, increasing training time and computational complexity.


We first constructed a collective BioSRL system based on MLN. This system, called collective BIOSMILE (CBIOSMILE), is trained on the BioProp corpus. To reduce the resources used in BioSRL training, we employ a tree-pruning filter to remove unlikely nodes from the parse tree and four argument candidate identifiers to retain candidate nodes in the tree. Nodes not recognized by any candidate identifier are discarded. The pruned annotated parse trees are used to train a resource-saving MLN-based system, which is referred to as resource-saving collective BIOSMILE (RCBIOSMILE). Our experimental results show that our proposed CBIOSMILE system outperforms BIOSMILE, which is the top BioSRL system. Furthermore, our proposed RCBIOSMILE maintains the same level of accuracy as CBIOSMILE using 92% less memory and 57% less training time.


This greatly improved efficiency makes RCBIOSMILE potentially suitable for training on much larger BioSRL corpora over more biomedical domains. Compared to real-world biomedical corpora, BioProp is relatively small, containing only 445 MEDLINE abstracts and 30 event triggers. It is not large enough for practical applications, such as pathway construction. We consider it of primary importance to pursue SRL training on large corpora in the future.