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Correlating information contents of gene ontology terms to infer semantic similarity of gene products.

ABSTRACT

Successful applications of the gene ontology to the inference of functional relationships between gene products in recent years have raised the need for computational methods to automatically calculate semantic similarity between gene products based on semantic similarity of gene ontology terms. Nevertheless, existing methods, though having been widely used in a variety of applications, may significantly overestimate semantic similarity between genes that are actually not functionally related, thereby yielding misleading results in applications. To overcome this limitation, we propose to represent a gene product as a vector that is composed of information contents of gene ontology terms annotated for the gene product, and we suggest calculating similarity between two gene products as the relatedness of their corresponding vectors using three measures: Pearson's correlation coefficient, cosine similarity, and the Jaccard index. We focus on the biological process domain of the gene ontology and annotations of yeast proteins to study the effectiveness of the proposed measures. Results show that semantic similarity scores calculated using the proposed measures are more consistent with known biological knowledge than those derived using a list of existing methods, suggesting the effectiveness of our method in characterizing functional relationships between gene products.