Probabilistic drug connectivity mapping

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  • Parkkinen and Kaski BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:113


    Probabilistic drug connectivity mappingJuuso A Parkkinen1 and Samuel Kaski1,2*


    Background: The aim of connectivity mapping is to match drugs using drug-treatment gene expression profilesfrom multiple cell lines. This can be viewed as an information retrieval task, with the goal of finding the most relevantprofiles for a given query drug. We infer the relevance for retrieval by data-driven probabilistic modeling of the drugresponses, resulting in probabilistic connectivity mapping, and further consider the available cell lines as different datasources. We use a special type of probabilistic model to separate what is shared and specific between the sources, incontrast to earlier connectivity mapping methods that have intentionally aggregated all available data, neglectinginformation about the differences between the cell lines.

    Results: We show that the probabilistic multi-source connectivity mapping method is superior to alternatives infinding functionally and chemically similar drugs from the Connectivity Map data set. We also demonstrate that anextension of the method is capable of retrieving combinations of drugs that match different relevant parts of thequery drug response profile.

    Conclusions: The probabilistic modeling-based connectivity mapping method provides a promising alternative toearlier methods. Principled integration of data from different cell lines helps to identify relevant responses for specificdrug repositioning applications.

    Keywords: Connectivity mapping, Data integration, Gene expression, Latent variable models, Probabilistic modeling

    BackgroundCurrent widespread application of high-throughput tran-scriptional profiling has made large collections of drug-treatment gene expression data both possible and feasible.One of the most important such databases is the Con-nectivity Map (CMap) [1] that allows users to matchtranscriptional profiles elicited by drug treatments anddiseases. The idea is that any perturbation to the genome-wise gene expression can be summarized by a propergene signature. Such signatures can be obtained usingmicroarray data and used as proxies of disease phe-notypes and drug effects. Matching drugs and diseasesbased on these signatures is known as connectivity map-ping, and it has shown promise in drug discovery andrepositioning [2-5]. CMaps successor, the Library of Inte-grated Network-based Cellular Signatures (LINCS,, will offer data for thousands of

    *Correspondence: samuel.kaski@aalto.fi1Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, Department of Informationand Computer Science, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland2Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, Department of ComputerScience, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

    compounds on tens of cell lines in the near future, pro-viding a unique resource for connectivity mapping -baseddrug discovery.Connectivity mapping can be seen as an information

    retrieval problem, where the task is to find the most rele-vant gene expression profile for a given query drug profile.The key to successful retrieval is a good definition of therelevance measure. Current connectivity mapping meth-ods define relevance based on similarity in the sets of topup- and down-regulated genes between the two measure-ment profiles [1] or the consensus profiles constructed bycombining all measurement samples for a given drug [2].Using non-parametric rank-based statistics to define thesimilarity [6], these methods can integrate data from mul-tiple measurement platforms while reducing batch effects.Alternatively, one could use the Pearson correlation tocompute the similarity, but it is more sensitive to platformdifferences [1].Transcriptional drug-treatment databases, such as

    CMap and LINCS, provide measurement data for vari-ous experimental factors, including multiple cell types,

    2014 Parkkinen and Kaski; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of theCreative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use,distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons PublicDomain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in thisarticle, unless otherwise stated. samuel.kaski@aalto.fi

  • Parkkinen and Kaski BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:113 Page 2 of 10

    doses, and time points. So far, data over multiple experi-mental factors has been aggregated into a consensus view[2], but this method intentionally ignores possible cell-line-specific effects of the drugs [4]. With the number ofexperimental factors growing notably in the future, dataintegration methods capable of distinguishing cell-line-specific effects and various types of consensus or commoneffects would be needed to bring out the full benefits fromconnectivity mapping.In this paper, we propose an alternative, probabilistic

    model-based approach for defining relevance, with theassumption that a suitably chosen probabilistic model candetect relevant effects from the noisy data. If the repre-sentation that the model provides is more informative andless noisy than the input data, retrieval is then more pre-cise based on the model instead of based on the noisyoriginal data. For tractability, we assume that the tran-scriptional effects caused by drug treatments consists ofa set of processes that generate partly overlapping pat-terns in the observations, and model each process as aprobabilistic latent factor of data.Assume then that some of the factors are shared by sub-

    sets of the cell lines, and some are specific to individualcell lines. When searching for drugs for a specific type ofcancer, for instance, effects in those cell lines are then rele-vant, and it would be natural to define relevance as activityin those factors.Relevance stems from the goal of the analyst, and

    can alternatively be to find effects specific to one cellline. If there are several relevant cell lines, however, anice side benefit follows: The data contains noise fromvarious sources in addition to the signal, such as mea-surement batch effects, and the noise is, by definition,specific to individual cell lines. If relevance is definedin terms of the shared activity, it is more tolerant tonoise.What remains now is to find a method to integrate data

    sources to identify shared patterns. A classical methodis the Canonical Correlation Analysis (CCA, [7]), whichseeks statistical dependencies between two data sets withpaired samples. CCA has been applied for multiple bio-logical problems [8-10]. However, for the general connec-tivity mapping problem, CCA is not sufficient as it onlysearches for the shared factors and needs to be generalizedto multiple data sources.A recent data integration method, called Group Factor

    Analysis (GFA, [11]), is a generalization of CCA directlysuitable for the task. GFA decomposes the transcriptionalresponse data into factors specific to individual cell linesand factors shared by two or more cell lines. The namecomes from the analysis of groups of variables, here onegroup for one cell line. Besides being a generalizationof CCA, the method generalizes standard factor analy-sis from finding relationships between scalar variables to

    finding relationships between groups of variables, or datasources.Data integration with GFA is one key novel aspect in

    our method, as the earlier connectivity mapping meth-ods intentionally did not study which responses generalizeacross the cell lines and which do not. The consensus-based method [2] assumes that only the general effectsof drugs are relevant, effectively discarding any specificeffects as noise. This is optimal only in the case of drugswith similar effects across cell lines, but this is not alwaystrue and hence the consensus-based method is overlyrestrictive. GFA scales to an arbitrary number of datasources, and the Bayesian probabilistic modeling makes itpossible to cope with the biggest problem of gene expres-sion data, the large p small n problem of having arelatively large number of variables (genes) compared tothe number of samples.Given the probabilistic model, retrieval of the relevant

    drug response profiles is then performed based on anactivity profile over the factors, or alternatively the latentfactor representation, the model has learned from data.We call the approach probabilistic connectivity mapping(Figure 1). A suitable relevance measure is the Pearsoncorrelation, as it focuses on the active (non-zero) factorsof the query and ignores the inactive ones. Depending onthe goal, the analyst can choose to focus on factors sharedby cell lines, specific factors, or both.We apply the method to the CMap data and show that it

    outperforms earlier connectivity mapping approaches infinding functionally and chemically similar drugs. Addi-tionally, the careful data integration helps: Shared factorsare the most relevant for the retrieval, but some specificfactors are relevant as well. This indicates that while mostdrugs exhibit similar responses across cell lines, there arealso some important differences that are captured by ourmodel.Alternatively to GFA, a more straightforward proba-

    bilistic factor analysis can also be used by simply concate-nating data from all cell lines and not taking into accountthe grouping of the variables according to cell lines. Wewill consider this alternative as well; GFA is expectedto have the advantage that interpretation of the factorsshould be easier as they explicitly specialize to a subset ofcell lines, but the retrieval performances are expected tobe similar.In addition to retrieval of single drugs, we demon-

    strate how the model-based approach can be extended toretrieve combinations of drugs. The idea is to retrieve aset of drugs, where each drug matches a different partof the relevant query response. This is beneficial forpolypharmacology, where drugs have multiple target effects[12,13]. We demonstrate that combinatorial retrievalcan provide complementary information to single-drugretrieval for polypharmacologic drugs.

  • Parkkinen and Kaski BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:113 Page 3 of 10

    Figure 1 Overview to probabilistic connectivity mapping. The input data for probabilistic connectivity mapping are a collection ofdrug-treatment gene expression profiles, measured on multiple cell lines. Probabilistic modeling, here Group Factor Analysis, is applied to explainthe data in terms of a set of factors Z and their loadingsW . The factors can be active in one or more cell lines, capturing both specific and shareddrug response effects. For the probabilistic connectivity mapping, a relevance measure between two drugs is finally defined as a similarity of theirfactor activities zi , computed in practice as the Pearson correlation.

    Data integration via probabilistic modeling is expectedto bring a couple of further benefits. As the strengthsof the responses vary widely, and the data is expectedto be heteroskedastic, fixed signature sizes used in cur-rent connectivity mapping approaches may lose impor-tant information. The probabilistic modeling approachcopes with varying sample norm in a natural fashion. Afinal benefit is the ability to cope with batch effects thatplague microarray experiments. They are view-specific bynature, so retrieval that focuses on the shared effects canhelp to further reduce the batch effects, complementingpreprocessing procedures such as mean-centering [14].

    Results and discussionConnectivity mapping resultsWe evaluated the proposed probabilistic connectivitymapping approach by applying it to a collection of 718compounds and three cell lines from the CMap database,normalized with mean-centering [14]. The gene expres-sion profiles weremodeled across the set of 930 Landmarkgenes identified in the LINCS project. Three probabilis-tic models were used: Group Factor Analysis (GFA),sparse factor analysis (sFA), and Bayesian principal com-ponent analysis (BPCA). As comparison, we used two ear-lier connectivity mapping methods: rank-based average

  • Parkkinen and Kaski BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:113 Page 4 of 10

    enrichment-score distance (AESD, [2]) and correlation(COR) on the differential expression data averaged overthe cell lines. We evaluated the retrieval performancebased on two external ground truths on relevance: howmany of the retrieved samples have the same fourth levelATC codes as the query drug and chemical similarity. Wemeasured retrieval performance with two complementarygoodness measures: partial area under the ROC curve andtop-10 mean average precision (MAP).Probabilistic connectivity mapping with GFA and sFA

    clearly outperform the other methods (Figure 2) on bothground truths and goodness measures. The sFA wasslightly better with the partial AUC measure and GFAfor the top-10 MAP measure. Bayesian PCA clearly per-formed worse, indicating that the sparsity assumptionsmade in GFA and sFA are important for capturing therelevant responses from the data.In the experiments of Figure 2, we used all factors, as

    that turned out to produce the best absolute retrievalperformance for this data. We next investigated the pos-sible benefits of focusing on the factors shared by thecell lines. The retrieval was based on the most activeshared factors (from GFA), and compared to the perfor-mance with an equal number of the most active factorsthat are specific to one cell line. Additionally, we com-pared this to the most active factors from sFA. Figure 3shows that the shared factors produce better retrievalalmost everywhere. These results suggest that the explicit

    group-wise sparsity assumption in GFA, resulting in thedecomposition to shared and specific effects, is beneficialin modeling data from multiple cell lines.

    Combinatorial retrieval resultsWe next studied how well the method extends to com-binatorial retrieval, that is, retrieval of multiple drugsthat together are relevant to the query. We queried withdrugs having multiple ATC codes, and the ground truth(unknown to the model) was the set of ATC codes. Ourhypothesis was that if some of the ATC codes representminor response effects, drugs with those codes wouldnot get a high relevance score when retrieving singledrugs, as the drugs with the other code(s) would dom-inate. However, the minority codes could show up incombinatorial retrieval. We also expect the combinato-rial retrieval to work better when the multiple effects ofthe query are more varied, as the effects would then getless mixed up. Figure 4 shows an example of combina-torial retrieval results an...


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