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MotifCombinator: a web-based tool to search for combinations of cis-regulatory motifs

Mamoru Kato* and Tatsuhiko Tsunoda

Author Affiliations

Laboratory for Medical Informatics, SNP Research Center, RIKEN, Yokohama, Japan

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BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:100  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-100

Published: 22 March 2007

Abstract

Background

A combination of multiple types of transcription factors and cis-regulatory elements is often required for gene expression in eukaryotes, and the combinatorial regulation confers specific gene expression to tissues or environments. To reveal the combinatorial regulation, computational methods are developed that efficiently infer combinations of cis-regulatory motifs that are important for gene expression as measured by DNA microarrays. One promising type of computational method is to utilize regression analysis between expression levels and scores of motifs in input sequences. This type takes full advantage of information on expression levels because it does not require that the expression level of each gene be dichotomized according to whether or not it reaches a certain threshold level. However, there is no web-based tool that employs regression methods to systematically search for motif combinations and that practically handles combinations of more than two or three motifs.

Results

We here introduced MotifCombinator, an online tool with a user-friendly interface, to systematically search for combinations composed of any number of motifs based on regression methods. The tool utilizes well-known regression methods (the multivariate linear regression, the multivariate adaptive regression spline or MARS, and the multivariate logistic regression method) for this purpose, and uses the genetic algorithm to search for combinations composed of any desired number of motifs. The visualization systems in this tool help users to intuitively grasp the process of the combination search, and the backup system allows users to easily stop and restart calculations that are expected to require large computational time. This tool also provides preparatory steps needed for systematic combination search – i.e., selecting single motifs to constitute combinations and cutting out redundant similar motifs based on clustering analysis.

Conclusion

MotifCombinator helps users to systematically search for motif combinations that play an important role in gene expression as measured by microarrays.