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Open Access Methodology article

Automated identification of cell-type-specific genes in the mouse brain by image computing of expression patterns

Rongjian Li, Wenlu Zhang and Shuiwang Ji*

Author Affiliations

Department of Computer Science, Old Dominion University, 23529 Norfolk, VA, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:209  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-209

Published: 20 June 2014

Abstract

Background

Differential gene expression patterns in cells of the mammalian brain result in the morphological, connectional, and functional diversity of cells. A wide variety of studies have shown that certain genes are expressed only in specific cell-types. Analysis of cell-type-specific gene expression patterns can provide insights into the relationship between genes, connectivity, brain regions, and cell-types. However, automated methods for identifying cell-type-specific genes are lacking to date.

Results

Here, we describe a set of computational methods for identifying cell-type-specific genes in the mouse brain by automated image computing of in situ hybridization (ISH) expression patterns. We applied invariant image feature descriptors to capture local gene expression information from cellular-resolution ISH images. We then built image-level representations by applying vector quantization on the image descriptors. We employed regularized learning methods for classifying genes specifically expressed in different brain cell-types. These methods can also rank image features based on their discriminative power. We used a data set of 2,872 genes from the Allen Brain Atlas in the experiments. Results showed that our methods are predictive of cell-type-specificity of genes. Our classifiers achieved AUC values of approximately 87% when the enrichment level is set to 20. In addition, we showed that the highly-ranked image features captured the relationship between cell-types.

Conclusions

Overall, our results showed that automated image computing methods could potentially be used to identify cell-type-specific genes in the mouse brain.