 Research
 Open Access
 Published:
On optimal comparability editing with applications to molecular diagnostics
BMC Bioinformatics volume 10, Article number: S61 (2009)
Abstract
Background
The COMPARABILITY EDITING problem appears in the context of hierarchical disease classification based on noisy data. We are given a directed graph G representing hierarchical relationships between patient subgroups. The task is to identify the minimum number of edge insertions or deletions to transform G into a transitive graph, that is, if edges (u, v) and (v, w) are present then edge (u, w) must be present, too.
Results
We present two new approaches for the problem based on fixedparameter algorithmics and integer linear programming. In contrast to previously used heuristics, our approaches compute provably optimal solutions.
Conclusion
Our computational results demonstrate that our exact algorithms are by far more efficient in practice than a previously used heuristic approach. In addition to the superior running time performance, our algorithms are capable of enumerating all optimal solutions, and naturally solve the weighted version of the problem.
Background
Jacob et al. [1] raise the following problem from molecular diagnostics: For a group of patients that share a disease, we have to assign each patient to a welldefined subgroup in a hierarchical classification scheme of subdiseases, based on molecular characteristics of the patient [2]. Such characteristics can be measured using highthroughput genomic approaches such as gene expression microarrays or SNP arrays, and may be accompanied by other data such as fluorescent in situ hybridization. The task is to deduce the hierarchical structure in the integrated noisy data sets by an automated approach. To do so, Jacob et al. [1] proceed in two steps: First, hierarchical dependencies between patient subgroups are stored in a directed graph, where vertices correspond to experimental characteristics (properties), and a directed edge between two properties A and B indicates that patients with property A are a (noisy) superset of patients with property B. Constructing this graph is straightforward using basic concepts from statistics: for example, one can choose a threshold α ∈ [0, 1] and include an edge (A, B) if the ratio of patients with feature B that also exhibit feature A is greater or equal to α [1]. Parameter α can be used to scale the sparseness of the resulting graph.
The second step consists in cleaning the input graph: if property A is a superset for property B, and B is a superset for property C, then it is understood that A must also be a superset for property C.
Unfortunately, noise in the highthroughput data often leads to cases where edge (A, C) is not included during graph construction, even though edges (A, B) and (B, C) are present. From a graphtheoretical point of view, we require that for directed edges (u, v) and (v, w) present in the graph, also (u, w) has to be present. A graph that satisfies this property for all vertex triples is called transitive. If the input graph is not transitive, then it is natural to ask for the most parsimonious way to transform the input graph into a transitive graph, that is, the minimum number of edge modifications (insertions or deletions) such that the resulting graph is transitive. This problem is called transitive approximation [3] or COMPARABILITY EDITING [4], and we stick with the latter term. Important problem variants include WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING where each edge has individual modification costs, and enumerating all optimal solutions. Unfortunately, (weighted) COMPARABILITY EDITING is NPcomplete [4]. Recently, Jacob et al. have presented a heuristic approach for the problem [1].
The COMPARABILITY EDITING problem is closely related to its undirected counterpart CLUSTER EDITING: Here, we are given an undirected graph as input, and our task is to find a set of edge modifications of minimum cardinality, such that the modified graph consists of disjoint cliques. This problem is also NPcomplete [5]. To find exact solutions, we can formulate the problem as an integer linear program (ILP) and use a cutting plane approach for its solution [6]. Another way to find exact solutions for CLUSTER EDITING are fixedparameter algorithms, using the number (or total cost) of edge modifications as parameter k [7, 8]. The currently fastest algorithms for CLUSTER EDITING use both the ILP formulation and fixedparameter algorithmics and, despite the hardness of the problem, allow to efficiently solve instances with thousands of vertices [9].
Our contributions
We have adopted both the ILP formulation and the fixedparameter algorithms (FPT) developed for CLUSTER EDITING to work with its directed counterpart, COMPARABILITY EDITING. Both approaches guarantee that exact solutions are found. In addition, FPT guarantees worstcase running times, with exponential dependency on the parameter k only. The ILP formulation is, in practice, several thousandfold faster than the heuristics from [1] even for small instances with 25 vertices. Combining FPT data reduction and ILP to solve the remaining problem leads to best running times. Both FPT and ILP can enumerate all optimal solutions, and for FPT this is possible with almost no computational overhead. Both approaches also work for WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING, which might lead to better solutions, for example, in the molecular diagnostics application: one might use the difference to the threshold α as modification cost of an edge, so that edges with measurements close to the threshold can be inserted or deleted cheaper than edges that deviate by a large extent from the threshold.
Methods
Preliminaries
Throughout this paper, let n := V. We sometimes assume that V = {1, ..., n}. We write uv as shorthand for an ordered pair (u, v) ∈ V^{2}. For weighted instances, let s : V^{2} → ℝ encode the input graph: For s(uv) > 0 a directed edge uv is present in the graph and has deletion cost s(uv), while for s(uv) ≤ 0 the edge uv is absent from the graph and has insertion cost s(uv). An unweighted COMPARABILITY EDITING instance can be encoded using s(uv) ∈ {± 1}. We call edges with s(uv) = ∞ permanent and with s(uv) = ∞ forbidden. Let N_{+}(v) denote the successors of v, N_{+}(v) = {w ∈ V  s(vw) > 0}. Similarly, let N_{}(v) denote the predecessors of v, N_{}(v) = {u ∈ V  s(uv) > 0}.
A directed graph G = (V, E) is transitive if for any three vertices u, v, w ∈ V with uv ∈ E and vw ∈ E we also have uw ∈ E. Any three vertices violating this condition are called a conflict triple.
A fixedparameter algorithm
The main idea behind many FPT graph modification algorithms is to localize and resolve forbidden substructures, either during preprocessing or in a search tree. In this paper, we transform any directed input graph G into a transitive graph by resolving all conflict triples. Our fixedparameter algorithms sometimes require a maximum number of edge modifications k to be known in advance: To find an optimal solution we call this algorithm repeatedly, increasing k.
We first present methods for the data reduction of (unweighted and weighted) COMPARABILITY EDITING instances. We describe polynomialtime reduction rules and apply these rules over and over again until no further rule will apply.
Parameterdependent data reduction
Our parameterdependent data reduction is similar to that for CLUSTER EDITING in [8]. For every tuple uv we define induced costs icf (uv) and icp(uv) for marking uv as forbidden or permanent, respectively:
We use these values and also take into account costs for inserting or deleting uv:

For all u, v ∈ V where
icf(uv) + max{0, s(uv)} > k :
Insert uv if necessary, and mark uv as permanent by assigning s(uv) ← +∞.

For all u, v ∈ V where
icp(uv) + max{0, s(uv)} > k :
Delete uv if necessary, and mark uv as forbidden by assigning s(uv) ← ∞.
If there is a pair uv such that both conditions hold simultaneously, the problem instance is not solvable. To understand these rules, assume that an edge uv is not present in an optimal solution. Then, for edges ux and xv present in the input, either ux or xv (or potentially both) have to be deleted to make the graph transitive.
Clearly, we can also remove isolated vertices and edges. Unfortunately, we are currently not able to give a problem kernel for COMPARABILITY EDITING: A problem kernel is a set of reduction rules so that after exhaustive application of the rules, the remaining instance has size polynomial in the parameter k and independent of the original problem size n [10]. Our reduction rules are obviously not a problem kernel, because we never reduce the number of vertices in the graph except when vertices or edges become isolated. Constructing a problem kernel remains an interesting open problem.
If both uv and vu are permanent, we can merge vertices u, v into a new vertex u': For each vertex w ∈ V \{u, v} we join uw, vw such that s(u'w) ← s(uw) + s(vw). Moreover, in case w is a noncommon neighbor of u, v we can reduce k by min{s(uw),s(vw)}. But it almost never happens in application that both uv and vu are permanent simultaneously, so this technique can rarely be applied. In particular, if the input graph is acyclic then no vertices will ever be merged.
Algorithm engineering and parameterindependent data reduction
First, we describe a fast method to compute a lower bound on the cost of WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING: Let CT be a set of edgedisjoint conflict triples. Then,
is a lower bound for solving all conflict triples in CT . Since finding the set CT maximizing this value is computationally expensive, we greedily construct a set of edgedisjoint conflict triples CT and use the above sum as a lower bound. We can use such lower bounds to make induced costs icf (uv) and icp(uv) tighter: let b(G, uv) be a lower bound that ignores all edges uw, wu, vw, and wv in its computation, for all w ∈ V \{u, v}. Then, we can set an edge to forbidden or permanent if
icp_{*}(uv) := icp(uv) + max{0, s(uv)} + b(G, uv) > k
or
icf_{*}(uv) := icf(uv) + max{0, s(uv)} + b(G, uv) > k
holds, respectively.
We now utilize an idea from [9] to transform the above parameterdependent data reduction into a parameterindependent one. Therefore we use an upper bound for the modification costs of G as our parameter k. Without the knowledge of a current parameter both parameterdependent data reduction rules can now be applied during the preprocessing. To calculate the upper bound we use a greedy approach that iteratively searches for edges where reduction rules almost apply. In detail, we search for an edge uv such that max{icp_{*}(uv), icf_{*}(uv)} is maximum and set uv to forbidden or permanent, respectively. Note that we can use any other upper bound for this reduction as well. The combination of lower and upper bounds makes this reduction very effective in application.
In our preprocessing, we mark an edge as permanent or forbidden when we can guarantee that this edge is always or never part of an optimal solution, respectively. This will usually not reduce the size of the instance. However, we will see in the section devoted to our computational results that in practice, adding information about permanent and forbidden edges makes it easier to solve the remaining instance. Note that we can process the reduced instance with any exact method or even heuristics.
Branching strategy
After parameterindependent data reduction, the remaining instance can be solved using a branching tree strategy. In such algorithms, we identify a conflict triple and then branch into subcases to repair this conflict. Let uvw be a conflict triple so that uv and vw are edges but uw is not. Recursively branch into three cases:

1.
Insert uw, mark uv, uw, and vw as permanent.

2.
Delete uv, mark vw as permanent, and uv and uw as forbidden.

3.
Delete vw, mark vw as forbidden.
In each branch, we lower k by the insertion or deletion cost required for the executed operation. When a connected component decomposes into two components, we calculate the optimum solutions for these components separately. If k falls below zero, we discard the respective branch of the algorithm. Keeping in mind that we can find a conflict triple in time O(n^{3}), the branching algorithm has running time O(3^{k}·n^{3}). Unfortunately, we cannot replace the polynomial factor by a summand because no polynomialsize problem kernel is known for the problem.
As an algorithm engineering technique, we do not process conflict triples in an arbitrary order but instead, choose that conflict triple uvw such that icp(uv) + icp(vw) + icf(uw) is maximal. Doing so, we choose a triple that results in a comparatively small branching number while avoiding the timeconsuming exact computation of branching numbers. The branching number is the root of the characteristic polynomial of the branching vector and governs the asymptotic size of the search tree, see again [10] for details. To find an optimal solution we call the algorithm repeatedly, increasing k in an interval defined by lower and upper bound for this problem instance. While traversing the search tree, we apply reduction rules in every recursion step. Clearly, lower bounds as described in the section on parameterindependent data reduction, can also be used to stop search tree recursion more efficiently.
It is understood that our algorithm can also enumerate all optimal solutions, by completely traversing the search tree.
An integer linear programming approach
Let x be a binary decision vector with x_{ ij }= 1 if directed edge (i, j) is part of the solution and x_{ ij }= 0 otherwise. Then, an optimal solution to WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING can be found by solving
s. t. x_{ ij }+ x_{ jk } x_{ ik }≤ 1 ∀1 ≤ i, j, k ≤ n
x_{ ij }= 0 ∀ij with s(ij) = ∞
x_{ ij }= 1 ∀ij with s(ij) = ∞
x_{ ij }∈ {0, 1} ∀1 ≤ i, j ≤ n.
The n^{3} triangle inequalities (2) of the ILP ensure that no conflict triple as shown in Fig. 1(a) occurs in the solution and model exactly the definition of transitivity. Equations (3) and (4) exclude forbidden edges and force permanent edges to be part of the solution.
Let $\overline{x}$ be a feasible solution of the ILP and let $\overline{E}$ be the corresponding edge set. It is easy to see that the graph G = (V, $\overline{E}$) is transitive. The objective function properly sums up the deletion and insertion costs as detailed by Table 1.
Thus, an optimal solution of the ILP corresponds to an optimal solution of WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING. Figures 1(b) and 1(c) show a small example instance of the problem and the corresponding ILP. The ILP formulation basically describes the partial order polytope of a complete directed graph.
Müller [11] has investigated the facial structure of partial order polytopes and his results on facetdefining inequalities and their separation can directly be used to develop an effective branchandcut algorithm for WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING:
We start optimizing the LP relaxation (1) with an empty constraint set. Let $\overline{x}$ denote the vector corresponding to an intermediate solution of the linear programming relaxation. We first check whether $\overline{x}$ violates any triangle inequalities. If this is the case, we add the violated inequalities, resolve, and iterate. Otherwise, we check whether $\overline{x}$ is integral. If so, we stop, and $\overline{x}$ is an optimal solution. If, however, $\overline{x}$ has fractional entries, we may separate additional facetdefining inequalities. Müller proposes to focus on odd closed walk inequalities and presents an efficient separation algorithm in [11]. If we find cutting planes in the separation procedure we iterate, otherwise we branch. Applying the cutting plane method at each node of the branchandbound tree leads to a branchandcut algorithm.
Note that in our current implementation we have not yet realized additional cutting planes because separating triangle inequalities proved to be sufficient for the tested instance sizes. Once larger or more complicated instances have to be dealt with, the separation of odd closed walk inequalities seems to be a promising direction to approach new orders of magnitude in instance size.
To enumerate solutions with the ILP approach, we propose the following, straightforward iterative cutting plane approach. Cutting of a given solution x*, as done in line 3 of the algorithm, can be realized by adding inequality

1
find first optimal solution x* with value z_{0} = z*;

2
repeat

3
add cutting plane (6) which cuts off x*;

4
find next optimal solution x* with value z*;

5
until z* > z_{0} or ILP infeasible ;
Results and discussion
We evaluate the performance of our algorithms on three datasets. First, Jacob et al. [1] synthetically created graphs for a fixed number of nodes n and an edge probability p. Two vertices u, v ∈ V := {1, ..., n} with u <v are connected by a directed edge (u, v) with probability p. For each combination of n ∈ {10, 15, 20, 25} and p ∈ {0.1, 0.2, ..., 0.9} they generated 20 graphs. On average, these graphs are most distant from the transitive state for p = 0.5.
Second, we generated a dataset of larger graphs. We defined these graphs by the number of nodes n and the number of edge changes k. Initially, we generate a transitive graph that has n nodes V := {1, ..., n} and contains all $\left(\begin{array}{c}n\\ 2\end{array}\right)$ directed edges of the form (u, v) for u <v. Next, we choose k distinct vertex tuples uv ∈ V^{2} and delete or insert the corresponding edges. The resulting graph has distance at most k to a transitive graph.
Third, we also evaluate our algorithms on the biological dataset from [1], which results from an extensive study with patients suffering from mature aggressive lymphomas. Here, we demonstrate that the FPT approach can enumerate all optimal instances in short computation time.
Performance of reduction rules
Combining FPT reduction rules with upper and lower bounds allows us to reduce input graphs in advance. In contrast to the CLUSTER EDITING problem this will usually not reduce the graph size. However, we can mark some edges in the graph as permanent or forbidden. We measure the reduction ratio by estimating the real modification costs using the mean of upper and lower bound. The reduction ratio is defined as $1\frac{cost{s}_{\text{reduced}}}{cost{s}_{\text{original}}}$, where costs_{original} and costs_{reduced} are the estimated modification costs before and after the reduction. Table 2 shows that reduction of the first artificial dataset is less effective for edge probabilities around p ≈ 0.5. We attribute this to the fact that graphs with p ≈ 0.5 are almost random and have strong local defects, whereas other graphs are closer to the transitive state. Average running times for the reduction are between 4 ms for graphs with 10 vertices, and 95 ms for 25 vertices.
Our data reduction reduces graphs even more effectively if they are large and close to the transitive state. Using the second artificial dataset, we found that if the ratio k/n is less than 3, our reduction achieves a reduction ratio of 98.5%. This is in fact very promising for biological data since here, input graphs are usually close to the transitive state. Average running times for the reduction are between 4.1 s for graphs with 100 vertices, and 5.9 min for large graphs with 500 vertices.
Artificial data by Jacob et al
We compare the running times of our exact FPT and ILP algorithms to the running times of the heuristic algorithm of Jacob et al. [1]. The reader should keep in mind that both our algorithms guarantee to find optimal solutions. Figure 2 shows running times for different graph sizes. Clearly, the performance of the algorithms differs significantly. Running times of the heuristic approach continually increase with greater edge probability. In contrast, our FPT and ILP algorithms show highest running times for the most "complicated" graphs with edge probability around 0.5. Clearly, running times of all three algorithms increase for larger graph size. The ILP algorithm outperforms the other two algorithms for graphs with more than 10 nodes by several orders of magnitude and computes provably optimal solutions for all instances in less than a second. The FPT algorithm shows good performance for nearly transitive graphs and solves them in less than an hour. Table 3 shows some detailed running times.
Most graphs derived from realworld data are almost transitive. This is due to the fact that the "true" graph is known to be transitive but the input graph suffers from some noise in the data. Our second benchmark set of larger artificial graphs accommodates this aspect, and we compare FPT and ILP on this dataset. To allow for a fair comparison, we first apply our data reduction preprocessing, and solve the reduced instances with FPT branching and the ILP algorithm. Figure 3 shows the running times of all three approaches. All approaches can solve large instances with up to 1 500 edge modifications in a matter of minutes. Again, performance of the ILP approach strongly depends on the graph size and less pronounced on the number of modifications. The opposite can be observed for the FPT algorithm. Since the benchmark set contains large graphs with moderate modification costs, the FPT algorithm outperforms the ILP algorithm on this data. However, in case we use our data reduction in advance, running time of the combined FPTILP approach is significantly smaller than those of both algorithms and shows the best overall performance. Our results indicate that both algorithms are suitable for even larger graphs.
Lymphoma dataset
Finally, we run the FPT algorithm on the data on mature aggressive Bcell lymphoma from Jacob et al. and enumerate all optimal solutions. This results in twelve optimal solutions shown in Fig. 4. All optimal solutions were enumerated in only 25 ms. In contrast, Jacob et al. [1] report only six optimal solutions that were found by their heuristic.
Conclusions and outlook
We have studied the WEIGHTED COMPARABILITY EDITING problem and have presented two exact algorithms for its solution. Our experimental results demonstrate that the exact approaches significantly outperform the heuristic approach proposed in [1]. In addition to the superior running time performance, our algorithms are capable of enumerating all optimal solutions, and naturally solve the weighted version of the problem.
In the future we plan to implement the full cutting plane approach including the odd closed walk inequalities proposed by Müller [11] and expect an even better performance behavior of the ILP approach. On the FPT side, constructing a problem kernel remains an interesting open problem. Further, we want to study the weighted problem variant more intensively, since weighted directed graphs seem to be more realistic models of molecular properties than unweighted ones. Labeling edges of molecular graphs with probabilities or loglikelihoods may lead to fewer and medically more meaningful optimal solutions and may also help to distinguish good solutions from false positive transformations. Finally, a more precise ranking of multiple (optimal and nonoptimal) solutions might prove beneficial for the interpretation of results, and also hints on the "reliability" of edges. Clearly, detecting hierarchical relationships in noisy data may have applications that go beyond hierarchical disease classification.
The source code of our reduction and comparability editing tools, as well as the data used in this article is publicly available as the charles package of the open software library planetlisa [12]. Furthermore, we plan to implement a web interface for our tools in order to give a large community access to our exact clustering and comparability editing tools and to facilitate comparison and evaluation.
References
 1.
Jacob J, Jentsch M, Kostka D, Bentink S, Spang R: Detecting hierarchical structure in molecular characteristics of disease using transitive approximations of directed graphs. Bioinformatics. 2008, 24 (7): 9951001.
 2.
Hummel M: A biologic definition of Burkitt's lymphoma from transcriptional and genomic profiling. N Engl J Med. 2006, 354 (23): 24192430.
 3.
Delvaux S, Horsten L: On best transitive approximations to simple graphs. Acta Inform. 2004, 40 (9): 637655.
 4.
Natanzon A, Shamir R, Sharan R: Complexity Classification of Some Edge Modification Problems. Proc. of Workshop on GraphTheoretic Concepts in Computer Science (WG 1999). 1999, Lect. Notes Comput. Sc., Springer, 1665: 6577.
 5.
Křivánek M, Morávek J: NPHard Problems in HierarchicalTree Clustering. Acta Inform. 1986, 23 (3): 311323.
 6.
Grötschel M, Wakabayashi Y: A cutting plane algorithm for a clustering problem. Math Program. 1989, 45: 5296.
 7.
Gramm J, Guo J, Hüffner F, Niedermeier R: Graphmodeled data clustering: Fixedparameter algorithms for clique generation. Theor Comput Syst. 2005, 38 (4): 373392.
 8.
Böcker S, Briesemeister S, Bui QBA, Truß A: A fixedparameter approach for Weighted Cluster Editing. Proc. of AsiaPacific Bioinformatics Conference (APBC 2008). 2008, Series on Advances in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Imperial College Press, 5: 211220.
 9.
Böcker S, Briesemeister S, Klau GW: Exact Algorithms for Cluster Editing: Evaluation and Experiments. Proc. of Workshop on Experimental Algorithms (WEA 2008). 2008, Lect. Notes Comput. Sc., Springer, 5038: 289302.
 10.
Niedermeier R: Invitation to FixedParameter Algorithms. 2006, Oxford University Press
 11.
Müller R: On the partial order polytope of a digraph. Mathematical Programming. 1996, 73: 3149.
 12.
Klau GW: [web page]. [Accessed 25 September 2008], [http://www.planetlisa.net]
Acknowledgements
We thank Rainer Spang's group in Regensburg and, in particular, Juby Jacob for providing us with the data from [1]. SBr gratefully acknowledges financial support from LGFG Promotionsverbund "Pflanzliche Sensorhistidinkinasen" at the University of Tübingen.
This article has been published as part of BMC Bioinformatics Volume 10 Supplement 1, 2009: Proceedings of The Seventh Asia Pacific Bioinformatics Conference (APBC) 2009. The full contents of the supplement are available online at http://www.biomedcentral.com/14712105/10?issue=S1
Author information
Affiliations
Corresponding author
Additional information
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Authors' contributions
SBö, SBr, and GWK jointly conducted the research, performed the experiments, and wrote the paper.
Sebastian Böcker, Sebastian Briesemeister and Gunnar W Klau contributed equally to this work.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Böcker, S., Briesemeister, S. & Klau, G.W. On optimal comparability editing with applications to molecular diagnostics. BMC Bioinformatics 10, S61 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471210510S1S61
Published:
Keywords
 Integer Linear Program
 Input Graph
 Reduction Rule
 Integer Linear Program Formulation
 Transitive Graph
Comments
View archived comments (1)