Machine Learning Department
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Comparative Genomic Motif Detection via
Multi-Resolution Phylogenetic Shadowing

Eric P. Xing, Pradipta R. Ray

May 2007


Keywords: Graphical models, comparative genomics, regulatory genomics

Functional turnover of transcription factor binding sites (TFBS), such as whole-motif loss or gain, are common events during genome evolution. Conventional probabilistic phylogenetic shadowing methods model the evolution of genomes only at nucleotide level, and lack the ability to capture the evolutionary dynamics of functional turnover of aligned sequence entities. As a result, comparative genomic search of non-conserved motifs across evolutionarily related taxa remains a difficult challenge, especially in higher eukaryotes where the cis-regulatory regions containing motifs can be long and divergent; and existing methods rely heavily on specialized pattern-driven heuristic search or sampling algorithms, which can be difficult to generalize and hard to interpret based on phylogenetic principles. We propose a new method: Conditional Shadowing via Multi-resolution Evolutionary Trees, or CSMET, which employs a context-dependent probabilistic graphical model that allows aligned sites from different taxa in a multiple alignment to be modeled by either a background or an appropriate motif phylogeny conditioning on the functional specifications of each taxon. The functional specifications themselves are the output of a phylogeny which models the evolution not of individual nucleotides, but of the overall functionality (e.g., functional retention or loss) of the aligned sequence segments over lineages. Combining this method with a hidden Markov model that autocorrelates evolutionary rates on successive sites in the genome, CSMET offers a principled way to take into consideration lineage-specific evolution of TFBSs during motif detection, and a readily computable analytical form of the posterior distribution of motifs under TFBS turnover. On both simulated and real Drosophila cis-regulatory modules, CSMET outperforms other state-of-the-art comparative genomic motif finders.

42 pages

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