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This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the 5th International Conference of the Brazilian Association for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (X-meeting 2009)

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Disclosing ambiguous gene aliases by automatic literature profiling

Roney S Coimbra12*, Dana E Vanderwall3 and Guilherme C Oliveira12

Author affiliations

1 Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics, Research Center René Rachou, FIOCRUZ-MG. Rua Araguari, 741, Barro Preto. Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil

2 Genomics and Computational Biology Group, Research Center René Rachou, FIOCRUZ-MG. Av. Augusto de Lima, 1715, Barro Preto. Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil

3 Molecular Discovery Research, GlaxoSmithKline Moore Dr, Research Triangle Park, NC, 27709, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2010, 11(Suppl 5):S3  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-S5-S3

Published: 22 December 2010



Retrieving pertinent information from biological scientific literature requires cutting-edge text mining methods which may be able to recognize the meaning of the very ambiguous names of biological entities. Aliases of a gene share a common vocabulary in their respective collections of PubMed abstracts. This may be true even when these aliases are not associated with the same subset of documents. This gene-specific vocabulary defines a unique fingerprint that can be used to disclose ambiguous aliases. The present work describes an original method for automatically assessing the ambiguity levels of gene aliases in large gene terminologies based exclusively in the content of their associated literature. The method can deal with the two major problems restricting the usage of current text mining tools: 1) different names associated with the same gene; and 2) one name associated with multiple genes, or even with non-gene entities. Important, this method does not require training examples.


Aliases were considered “ambiguous” when their Jaccard distance to the respective official gene symbol was equal or greater than the smallest distance between the official gene symbol and one of the three internal controls (randomly picked unrelated official gene symbols). Otherwise, they were assigned the status of “synonyms”. We evaluated the coherence of the results by comparing the frequencies of the official gene symbols in the text corpora retrieved with their respective “synonyms” or “ambiguous” aliases. Official gene symbols were mentioned in the abstract collections of 42 % (70/165) of their respective synonyms. No official gene symbol occurred in the abstract collections of any of their respective ambiguous aliases. In overall, querying PubMed with official gene symbols and “synonym” aliases allowed a 3.6-fold increase in the number of unique documents retrieved.


These results confirm that this method is able to distinguish between synonyms and ambiguous gene aliases based exclusively on their vocabulary fingerprint. The approach we describe could be used to enhance the retrieval of relevant literature related to a gene.