Characterizing gene sets using discriminative random walks with restart on heterogeneous biological networks

Bioinformatics. 2016 Jul 15;32(14):2167-75. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btw151. Epub 2016 Mar 19.


Motivation: Analysis of co-expressed gene sets typically involves testing for enrichment of different annotations or 'properties' such as biological processes, pathways, transcription factor binding sites, etc., one property at a time. This common approach ignores any known relationships among the properties or the genes themselves. It is believed that known biological relationships among genes and their many properties may be exploited to more accurately reveal commonalities of a gene set. Previous work has sought to achieve this by building biological networks that combine multiple types of gene-gene or gene-property relationships, and performing network analysis to identify other genes and properties most relevant to a given gene set. Most existing network-based approaches for recognizing genes or annotations relevant to a given gene set collapse information about different properties to simplify (homogenize) the networks.

Results: We present a network-based method for ranking genes or properties related to a given gene set. Such related genes or properties are identified from among the nodes of a large, heterogeneous network of biological information. Our method involves a random walk with restarts, performed on an initial network with multiple node and edge types that preserve more of the original, specific property information than current methods that operate on homogeneous networks. In this first stage of our algorithm, we find the properties that are the most relevant to the given gene set and extract a subnetwork of the original network, comprising only these relevant properties. We then re-rank genes by their similarity to the given gene set, based on a second random walk with restarts, performed on the above subnetwork. We demonstrate the effectiveness of this algorithm for ranking genes related to Drosophila embryonic development and aggressive responses in the brains of social animals.

Availability and implementation: DRaWR was implemented as an R package available at


Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Social Behavior