Background: Since the inception of the GO annotation project, a variety of tools have been developed that support exploring and searching the GO database. In particular, a variety of tools that perform GO enrichment analysis are currently available. Most of these tools require as input a target set of genes and a background set and seek enrichment in the target set compared to the background set. A few tools also exist that support analyzing ranked lists. The latter typically rely on simulations or on union-bound correction for assigning statistical significance to the results.
Results: GOrilla is a web-based application that identifies enriched GO terms in ranked lists of genes, without requiring the user to provide explicit target and background sets. This is particularly useful in many typical cases where genomic data may be naturally represented as a ranked list of genes (e.g. by level of expression or of differential expression). GOrilla employs a flexible threshold statistical approach to discover GO terms that are significantly enriched at the top of a ranked gene list. Building on a complete theoretical characterization of the underlying distribution, called mHG, GOrilla computes an exact p-value for the observed enrichment, taking threshold multiple testing into account without the need for simulations. This enables rigorous statistical analysis of thousand of genes and thousands of GO terms in order of seconds. The output of the enrichment analysis is visualized as a hierarchical structure, providing a clear view of the relations between enriched GO terms.
Conclusion: GOrilla is an efficient GO analysis tool with unique features that make a useful addition to the existing repertoire of GO enrichment tools. GOrilla's unique features and advantages over other threshold free enrichment tools include rigorous statistics, fast running time and an effective graphical representation. GOrilla is publicly available at: http://cbl-gorilla.cs.technion.ac.il