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In Bioinformatics (Oxford, England)

MOTIVATION : Interactions between proteins help us understand how genes are functionally related and how they contribute to phenotypes. Experiments provide imperfect "ground truth" information about a small subset of potential interactions in a specific biological context, which can then be extended to the whole genome across different contexts, such as conditions, tissues, or species, through machine learning methods. However, evaluating the performance of these methods remains a critical challenge. Here, we propose to evaluate the generalizability of gene characterizations through the shape of performance curves.

RESULTS : We identify Functional Equivalence Classes (FECs), subsets of annotated and unannotated genes that jointly drive performance, by assessing the presence of straight lines in ROC curves built from gene-centric prediction tasks, such as function or interaction predictions. FECs are widespread across data types and methods, they can be used to evaluate the extent and context-specificity of functional annotations in a data-driven manner. For example, FECs suggest that B cell markers can be decomposed into shared primary markers (10 to 50 genes), and tissue-specific secondary markers (100 to 500 genes). In addition, FECs suggest the existence of functional modules that span a wide range of the genome, with marker sets spanning at most 5% of the genome and data-driven extensions of Gene Ontology sets spanning up to 40% of the genome. Simple to assess visually and statistically, the identification of FECs in performance curves paves the way for novel functional characterization and increased robustness in the definition of functional gene sets.

AVAILABILITY : Code for analyses and figures is available at

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION : Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Fischer Stephan, Gillis Jesse