TCDO: A Community-Based Ontology for Integrative Representation and Analysis of Traditional Chinese Drugs and Their Properties

Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021 Sep 23:2021:6637810. doi: 10.1155/2021/6637810. eCollection 2021.


Traditional Chinese drugs (TCDs) have been widely used in clinical practice in China and many other regions for thousands of years. Nowadays TCD's bioactive ingredients and mechanisms of action are being identified. However, the lack of standardized terminologies or ontologies for the description of TCDs has hindered the interoperability and deep analysis of TCD knowledge and data. By aligning with the Basic Formal Ontology (BFO), an ISO-approved top-level ontology, we constructed a community-driven TCD ontology (TCDO) with the aim of supporting standardized TCD representation and integrated analysis. TCDO provides logical and textual definitions of TCDs, TCD categories, and the properties of TCDs (i.e., nature, flavor, toxicity, and channel tropism). More than 400 popular TCD decoction pieces (TCD-DPs) and Chinese medicinal materials (CMMs) are systematically represented. The logical TCD representation in TCDO supports computer-assisted reasoning and queries using tools such as Description Logic (DL) and SPARQL queries. Our statistical analysis of the knowledge represented in TCDO revealed scientific insights about TCDs. A total of 36 TCDs with medium or high toxicity are most densely distributed, primarily in Aconitum genus, Lamiids clade, and Fabids clade. TCD toxicity is mostly associated with the hot nature and pungent or bitter flavors and has liver, kidney, and spleen channel tropism. The three pairs of TCD flavor-nature associations (i.e., bitter-cold, pungent-warm, and sweet-neutral) were identified. The significance of these findings is discussed. TCDO has also been used to support the development of a web-based traditional Chinese medicine semantic annotation system that provides comprehensive annotation for individual TCDs. As a novel formal TCD ontology, TCDO lays out a strong foundation for more advanced TCD studies in the future.