Open Access Software

GraphAlignment: Bayesian pairwise alignment of biological networks

Michal Kolář12, Jörn Meier1, Ville Mustonen13, Michael Lässig1 and Johannes Berg1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität zu Köln, Zülpicher Straße 77, D-50937 Köln, Germany

2 Institute of Molecular Genetics, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Vídeňská 1083, CZ-14220 Praha, Czech Republic

3 Present address: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, CB10 1SA, UK

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BMC Systems Biology 2012, 6:144  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-6-144

Published: 21 November 2012



With increased experimental availability and accuracy of bio-molecular networks, tools for their comparative and evolutionary analysis are needed. A key component for such studies is the alignment of networks.


We introduce the Bioconductor package GraphAlignment for pairwise alignment of bio-molecular networks. The alignment incorporates information both from network vertices and network edges and is based on an explicit evolutionary model, allowing inference of all scoring parameters directly from empirical data. We compare the performance of our algorithm to an alternative algorithm, Græmlin 2.0.

On simulated data, GraphAlignment outperforms Græmlin 2.0 in several benchmarks except for computational complexity. When there is little or no noise in the data, GraphAlignment is slower than Græmlin 2.0. It is faster than Græmlin 2.0 when processing noisy data containing spurious vertex associations. Its typical case complexity grows approximately as <a onClick="popup('','MathML',630,470);return false;" target="_blank" href="">View MathML</a>.

On empirical bacterial protein-protein interaction networks (PIN) and gene co-expression networks, GraphAlignment outperforms Græmlin 2.0 with respect to coverage and specificity, albeit by a small margin. On large eukaryotic PIN, Græmlin 2.0 outperforms GraphAlignment.


The GraphAlignment algorithm is robust to spurious vertex associations, correctly resolves paralogs, and shows very good performance in identification of homologous vertices defined by high vertex and/or interaction similarity. The simplicity and generality of GraphAlignment edge scoring makes the algorithm an appropriate choice for global alignment of networks.

Graph alignment; Biological networks; Parameter estimation; Bioconductor