Multimodal network diffusion predicts future disease-gene-chemical associations

Bioinformatics. 2019 May 1;35(9):1536-1543. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/bty858.


Motivation: Precision medicine is an emerging field with hopes to improve patient treatment and reduce morbidity and mortality. To these ends, computational approaches have predicted associations among genes, chemicals and diseases. Such efforts, however, were often limited to using just some available association types. This lowers prediction coverage and, since prior evidence shows that integrating heterogeneous data is likely beneficial, it may limit accuracy. Therefore, we systematically tested whether using more association types improves prediction.

Results: We study multimodal networks linking diseases, genes and chemicals (drugs) by applying three diffusion algorithms and varying information content. Ten-fold cross-validation shows that these networks are internally consistent, both within and across association types. Also, diffusion methods recovered missing edges, even if all the edges from an entire mode of association were removed. This suggests that information is transferable between these association types. As a realistic validation, time-stamped experiments simulated the predictions of future associations based solely on information known prior to a given date. The results show that many future published results are predictable from current associations. Moreover, in most cases, using more association types increases prediction coverage without significantly decreasing sensitivity and specificity. In case studies, literature-supported validation shows that these predictions mimic human-formulated hypotheses. Overall, this study suggests that diffusion over a more comprehensive multimodal network will generate more useful hypotheses of associations among diseases, genes and chemicals, which may guide the development of precision therapies.

Availability and implementation: Code and data are available at

Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Computational Biology*
  • Diffusion
  • Humans
  • Precision Medicine