- Methodology article
- Open Access
Optimizing amino acid substitution matrices with a local alignment kernel
- Hiroto Saigo^{1}Email author,
- Jean-Philippe Vert^{2} and
- Tatsuya Akutsu^{1}
https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2105-7-246
© Saigo et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2006
Received: 04 February 2006
Accepted: 05 May 2006
Published: 05 May 2006
Abstract
Background
Detecting remote homologies by direct comparison of protein sequences remains a challenging task. We had previously developed a similarity score between sequences, called a local alignment kernel, that exhibits good performance for this task in combination with a support vector machine. The local alignment kernel depends on an amino acid substitution matrix. Since commonly used BLOSUM or PAM matrices for scoring amino acid matches have been optimized to be used in combination with the Smith-Waterman algorithm, the matrices optimal for the local alignment kernel can be different.
Results
Contrary to the local alignment score computed by the Smith-Waterman algorithm, the local alignment kernel is differentiable with respect to the amino acid substitution and its derivative can be computed efficiently by dynamic programming. We optimized the substitution matrix by classical gradient descent by setting an objective function that measures how well the local alignment kernel discriminates homologs from non-homologs in the COG database. The local alignment kernel exhibits better performance when it uses the matrices and gap parameters optimized by this procedure than when it uses the matrices optimized for the Smith-Waterman algorithm. Furthermore, the matrices and gap parameters optimized for the local alignment kernel can also be used successfully by the Smith-Waterman algorithm.
Conclusion
This optimization procedure leads to useful substitution matrices, both for the local alignment kernel and the Smith-Waterman algorithm. The best performance for homology detection is obtained by the local alignment kernel.
Keywords
Background
Sequence comparison for homology detection remains one of the core tools in bioinformatics. For example, BLAST [1] and PSI-BLAST [2] are widely used for this task, from wet biologists to bioinformaticians. Thanks to those tools, more than half of the newly identified protein sequences are nowadays recognized as having homologs [3]. The identification of remote homologs, however, remains a challenging task because sequence divergence can prevent sequence comparison algorithms from recognizing those homologies. In order to improve the performance of sequence comparison algorithms, a possible strategy is to use data from large databases like SCOP [4], PFAM [5] and COG [6] in order to optimize the parameters of the algorithm to detect homology. Following this strategy, we previously developed a score to compare protein sequences, called the local alignment kernel (LA kernel) [7], which in combination with a support vector machine could detect remote homology better than several state-of-the-art methods, including the Smith-Waterman (SW) algorithm [8], in a benchmark experiment based on the SCOP database. Although the LA kernel was used as a kernel function in combination with a support vector machine in [7], it can also be independently thought of as a measure of similarity between biological sequences, based on the scoring of local alignments between the sequences. In fact it bears similarities to the AAS algorithm [9], Hybrid Alignment algorithm [10] and BALSA algorithm [11] for sequence comparison, in the sense that all of these algorithms compute a summation of the scores over all possible local alignments (using a forward algorithm), instead of computing the score of only the best alignment (using the Viterbi algorithm), as the SW algorithm does.
Both the SW algorithm and the LA kernel depend critically on gap parameters and on a substitution matrix (also called a score matrix) that quantifies the contribution in the score of an alignment between any two given amino acids. Different substitution matrices lead to different alignment scores, and potentially to, different performance in terms of homology detection. Although homology detection is the actual goal of sequence comparison, most substitution matrices used in bioinformatics have been optimized for different purposes (a cluster of such matrices is available from the AAindex database [13]). For example, the PAM (point accepted mutation) matrices [14] are based on the probability of single point mutations and the theory of Markov chains. Among the PAM series the PAM250 matrix, which corresponds to the 250 PAM evolution time, is most frequently used in bioinformatics. Subsequently, Gonnet et al. [15] and Jones et al. [16] applied the same method to different and larger databases, resulting in different amino acid substitution matrices (GCB and JTT, respectively). The BLOSUM matrices [17] are constructed from the Blocks database of aligned protein sequences. The popular BLOSUM62 matrix is constructed from the blocks of sequence segments with identity larger than 62%.
A different methodology to construct a substitution matrix has been followed by Hourai et al. [18] and Kann et al. [19]. Following the idea that the final goal of sequence comparison is to detect homologies, these authors investigated the possibility to automatically optimize a substitution matrix to improve the performance of the final score in terms of homology detection. This optimization, based on a training dataset of pairs of proteins extracted from the Cluster of Orthologous Group (COG) database [6], uses an objective function that quantifies how well the final score separates the true homologs from non-homologs. Homology detection is known to be particularly difficult for pairs of proteins with less than 25% sequence identity, and the main motivations for these studies are to go further in this so-called "twilight zone" by assessing the performance of homology detection as the main objective function for the optimization of the substitution matrix. The methods of Hourai et al. and Kann et al. differ in the objective function that is optimized. Hourai et.al. try to separate the distribution of homologs from the distribution of non-homologs by minimizing the Bayes error rate. Kann et al. prepared a dataset of homologous pairs from the COG database and maximized the average C(confidence)-value of the pairs, where the C value is designed to be large when the expected number of non-homologous sequences scoring higher than the candidate pair is small. In spite of these differences, the methods by Hourai et al. and Kann et al. both suffer from the difficulty to optimize the SW score with respect to the substitution matrix. Indeed, the fact that the SW score only takes into account the maximum scoring alignment makes it non-differentiable with respect to the substitution matrix. As a result, the final objective function which is based on SW scores is itself not differentiable with respect to the substitution matrix, and therefore difficult to optimize. The trick used by both algorithms is to observe that the SW score of a pair of sequences is piecewise differentiable, as long as the maximum scoring alignment remains the same. Hence the authors suggest to alternate both local optimization of the substitution matrix by gradient descent and computation of the best scoring alignment that depends on the current substitution matrix. A drawback of this approach is that the local moves of the substitution matrices, based on a given set of alignments, might be very different from those required to globally optimize the objective function.
This paper is devoted to the extension of these approaches to the LA kernel, instead of the SW local alignment score. The motivations for this work are twofold. First, the LA kernel was previously shown to be a more sensitive measure of similarity for remote homologs, suggesting that it could also remain competitive with an optimized substitution matrix. Second, contrary to the SW score, the LA kernel is differentiable with respect to the elements of the substitution matrix and the gap parameters, and we show below that these derivatives can be computed efficiently by dynamic programming. This means that any objective function that is itself differentiable with respect to the LA kernel is differentiable with respect to the substitution matrix and can be optimized by simple gradient descent methods, without the need to alternate between the gradient descent steps and alignment steps used in the optimization of the SW score. Applying this procedure to the objective function used in [19], we optimized the substitution matrix as well as the gap parameters to separate true homologs from non-homologs in a dataset of protein sequences extracted from the COG database, and evaluated the performance of the resulting methods for homology detection on several independent test sets. We compared these results with those obtained after optimizing the substitution matrix with the Smith-Waterman algorithm [19], and compared how each scoring algorithm performs with each optimized matrix.
Results
Pairs of homologous sequences with identity smaller than 20% were collected from the COG database and used for the training and testing of the method. For each pair, an E- value measuring the significance of the alignment score was computed, from which the corresponding confidence value C = 1/(1 + E) was derived. The objective of the optimization procedure is to maximize the mean confidence value ⟨C⟩ over the training set, and its performance is evaluated by the average confidence value on the test set. In order to avoid the risk of falling into local optima, we used several amino acid substitution matrices (BLOSUM62, PAM250, JTT, GCB) with default gap parameters (12 and 2 for gap open and extension penalties, respectively) as starting points of the optimization. Among them, BLOSUM62 led to the best local optimum, and we present the performance of this optimization below.
Improvement of confidence values for the SW algorithm and the LA kernel
Amino acid substitution matrix optimized for the SW score. Optimization was started from the BLOSUM62 matrix with gap open and extension penalties initialized to 12 and 2 respectively, on COG training data. After the optimization procedure, the open and extension penalties are 12.3 and 2.8, respectively.
A | 4.5 | |||||||||||||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
R | -0.9 | 5.2 | ||||||||||||||||||
N | -1.9 | 0.1 | 5.9 | |||||||||||||||||
D | -2.0 | -2.0 | 1.2 | 6.2 | ||||||||||||||||
C | 0.1 | -3.0 | -3.0 | -3.0 | 9.0 | |||||||||||||||
Q | -0.9 | 1.0 | 0.0 | 0.1 | -3.0 | 5.1 | ||||||||||||||
E | -0.8 | 0.1 | 0.1 | 2.1 | -4.0 | 2.1 | 5.0 | |||||||||||||
G | 0.2 | -2.0 | 0.1 | -0.9 | -3.0 | -1.9 | -1.8 | 6.3 | ||||||||||||
H | -2.0 | 0.0 | 1.1 | -1.0 | -3.0 | -0.0 | 0.1 | -2.0 | 8.0 | |||||||||||
I | -0.8 | -2.9 | -3.0 | -3.1 | -1.0 | -3.0 | -3.1 | -3.9 | -3.0 | 4.0 | ||||||||||
L | -0.8 | -1.9 | -3.0 | -4.0 | -1.0 | -2.0 | -2.9 | -3.9 | -3.0 | 2.6 | 4.4 | |||||||||
K | -0.8 | 2.3 | 0.0 | -1.0 | -3.0 | 1.2 | 1.1 | -2.0 | -0.9 | -3.0 | -1.9 | 4.8 | ||||||||
M | -1.0 | -1.0 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -1.0 | 0.0 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -2.0 | 1.2 | 2.1 | -1.0 | 5.0 | |||||||
F | -1.9 | -2.9 | -3.0 | -3.0 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -3.0 | -3.0 | -1.0 | 0.2 | 0.3 | -3.0 | 0.0 | 6.1 | ||||||
P | -1.0 | -2.0 | -2.0 | -0.9 | -3.0 | -1.0 | -1.0 | -1.9 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -2.9 | -1.0 | -2.0 | -4.0 | 7.1 | |||||
S | 1.3 | -1.0 | 1.1 | 0.1 | -1.0 | 0.1 | 0.1 | 0.2 | -1.0 | -1.9 | -1.9 | -0.0 | -1.0 | -1.9 | -0.9 | 4.0 | ||||
T | 0.2 | -1.0 | 0.1 | -1.0 | -1.0 | -0.9 | -0.9 | -1.9 | -2.0 | -0.9 | -0.8 | -1.0 | -1.0 | -1.9 | -1.0 | 1.1 | 5.1 | |||
W | -3.0 | -3.0 | -4.0 | -4.0 | -2.0 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -2.0 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -1.9 | -3.0 | -1.0 | 1.0 | -4.0 | -3.0 | -2.0 | 11.1 | ||
Y | -1.9 | -1.9 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -2.0 | -0.9 | -2.0 | -3.0 | 2.1 | -1.0 | -0.8 | -2.0 | -1.0 | 3.2 | -3.0 | -2.0 | -2.0 | 2.0 | 7.0 | |
V | 0.2 | -3.0 | -3.0 | -3.0 | -1.0 | -2.0 | -2.0 | -3.0 | -3.0 | 3.4 | 1.2 | -2.0 | 1.1 | -0.9 | -1.9 | -1.9 | 0.1 | -3.0 | -1.0 | 4.2 |
A | R | N | D | C | Q | E | G | H | I | L | K | M | F | P | S | T | W | Y | V |
Amino acid substitution matrix optimized for the LA kernel (β = 0:5). Optimization was started from the BLOSUM62 matrix with gap open and extension penalties initialized to 12 and 2 respectively, on COG training data. After the optimization procedure, the gap open and extension penalties are 12.5 and 5.0, respectively.
A | 3.7 | |||||||||||||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
R | -0.5 | 5.5 | ||||||||||||||||||
N | -1.6 | 0.2 | 5.6 | |||||||||||||||||
D | -2.1 | -2.2 | 1.9 | 6.2 | ||||||||||||||||
C | 0.4 | -2.9 | -3.0 | -2.9 | 9.1 | |||||||||||||||
Q | -0.7 | 1.1 | 0.2 | 0.2 | -2.9 | 5.2 | ||||||||||||||
E | -0.2 | 1.0 | 0.0 | 2.6 | -3.8 | 2.0 | 4.2 | |||||||||||||
G | 0.3 | -1.9 | 0.2 | -0.6 | -2.9 | -1.8 | -1.6 | 7.4 | ||||||||||||
H | -2.0 | 0.2 | 1.0 | -0.6 | -3.0 | 0.2 | 0.0 | -1.8 | 7.9 | |||||||||||
I | -0.4 | -2.8 | -2.8 | -3.4 | -0.9 | -2.8 | -3.5 | -3.7 | -3.1 | 3.5 | ||||||||||
L | -1.5 | -1.7 | -3.1 | -4.1 | -0.7 | -1.9 | -2.1 | -4.1 | -2.7 | 2.8 | 4.0 | |||||||||
K | -0.5 | 3.7 | -0.4 | -0.9 | -2.9 | 1.8 | 1.1 | -1.8 | -0.8 | -3.0 | -1.9 | 3.6 | ||||||||
M | -0.5 | -0.8 | -2.4 | -2.8 | -0.9 | 0.1 | -2.2 | -3.0 | -1.9 | 1.4 | 2.2 | -0.7 | 4.8 | |||||||
F | -1.9 | -2.9 | -3.1 | -3.4 | -1.9 | -3.1 | -3.0 | -2.7 | -1.1 | 0.4 | 1.4 | -2.7 | -0.4 | 6.0 | ||||||
P | -1.0 | -1.9 | -2.0 | -1.2 | -3.1 | -1.0 | -1.2 | -1.7 | -2.0 | -3.3 | -3.0 | -1.0 | -2.0 | -4.2 | 7.2 | |||||
S | 1.4 | -0.9 | 1.1 | 0.1 | -0.9 | 0.5 | -0.4 | 0.4 | -1.0 | -2.3 | -2.2 | 0.1 | -0.9 | -1.8 | -0.7 | 3.4 | ||||
T | 0.1 | -1.0 | -0.3 | -1.1 | -0.8 | -0.6 | -0.3 | -1.7 | -1.9 | -1.2 | -0.7 | -1.2 | -1.3 | -1.8 | -0.8 | 0.7 | 4.4 | |||
W | -3.0 | -2.9 | -4.4 | -3.8 | -2.0 | -1.9 | -3.0 | -2.0 | -1.9 | -2.8 | -1.7 | -3.1 | -1.2 | 1.3 | -4.0 | -3.0 | -2.0 | 11.2 | ||
Y | -1.9 | -1.9 | -1.9 | -3.0 | -2.0 | -1.0 | -1.6 | -3.0 | 2.5 | -0.7 | -0.7 | -2.0 | -0.9 | 2.9 | -3.0 | -1.8 | -2.0 | 2.0 | 7.2 | |
V | -0.1 | -2.8 | -3.1 | -3.6 | -0.8 | -1.9 | -2.3 | -3.1 | -2.7 | 3.7 | 1.6 | -2.1 | 0.9 | -0.8 | -1.9 | -1.9 | -0.3 | -3.1 | -1.3 | 3.4 |
A | R | N | D | C | Q | E | G | H | I | L | K | M | F | P | S | T | W | Y | V |
Moreover, we calculated the average l_{1}-distance between two matrices M_{1} and M_{2} as
Final amino acid substitution matrix optimized for the LA kernel (β = 0:5). Optimization was started from the BLOSUM62 matrix with gap open and extension penalties initialized to 12 and 2 using all the COG distant data. After the optimization procedure, the gap open and extension penalties are 11.6 and 5.7, respectively.
A | 3.1 | |||||||||||||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
R | -1.4 | 4.5 | ||||||||||||||||||
N | -1.5 | 0.1 | 5.9 | |||||||||||||||||
D | -1.8 | -1.8 | 1.9 | 6.0 | ||||||||||||||||
C | 0.3 | -2.9 | -3.0 | -3.0 | 8.7 | |||||||||||||||
Q | -0.5 | 1.5 | 0.4 | -0.4 | -3.1 | 4.7 | ||||||||||||||
E | -1.3 | 0.2 | -0.3 | 2.3 | -4.0 | 2.1 | 3.2 | |||||||||||||
G | 0.6 | -2.6 | 0.6 | -0.5 | -3.0 | -1.9 | -1.7 | 6.9 | ||||||||||||
H | -2.0 | 0.3 | 0.8 | -0.9 | -3.0 | 0.3 | -0.0 | -1.7 | 8.1 | |||||||||||
I | -1.5 | -3.0 | -3.3 | -3.3 | -0.8 | -2.6 | -3.4 | -3.9 | -3.0 | 3.5 | ||||||||||
L | -0.5 | -2.3 | -3.3 | -4.4 | -1.2 | -1.9 | -2.6 | -4.0 | -2.9 | 2.7 | 3.6 | |||||||||
K | -1.0 | 3.7 | 0.5 | -0.3 | -3.1 | 0.8 | 0.0 | -1.5 | -0.7 | -3.0 | -1.9 | 4.0 | ||||||||
M | -0.5 | -0.9 | -2.1 | -3.0 | -0.9 | 0.3 | -2.2 | -3.1 | -2.0 | 1.5 | 2.5 | -1.3 | 4.8 | |||||||
F | -1.3 | -2.5 | -3.0 | -2.8 | -1.9 | -2.9 | -3.3 | -3.2 | -1.2 | 0.3 | 1.0 | -3.0 | 0.2 | 5.2 | ||||||
P | -1.0 | -2.3 | -1.9 | -0.4 | -3.1 | -1.2 | -1.2 | -2.1 | -2.0 | -3.1 | -2.5 | -1.0 | -1.9 | -4.1 | 7.7 | |||||
S | 2.2 | -0.9 | 0.6 | -0.1 | -1.0 | 0.8 | 0.0 | 0.5 | -0.8 | -1.9 | -2.4 | 0.1 | -1.4 | -1.8 | -0.7 | 4.0 | ||||
T | 1.0 | -0.5 | 0.0 | -0.7 | -1.2 | -0.7 | -0.7 | -1.9 | -1.8 | -1.3 | -1.2 | -0.7 | -1.0 | -1.6 | -0.9 | 1.5 | 5.0 | |||
W | -3.1 | -3.0 | -4.1 | -4.0 | -1.9 | -1.9 | -2.9 | -1.9 | -1.9 | -2.8 | -1.8 | -2.9 | -1.2 | 0.7 | -4.0 | -3.1 | -2.0 | 10.5 | ||
Y | -1.8 | -1.6 | -1.8 | -3.1 | -2.0 | -1.0 | -2.2 | -3.5 | 2.3 | -1.0 | -0.9 | -2.4 | -0.8 | 2.8 | -3.3 | -1.9 | -2.0 | 2.4 | 6.3 | |
V | 0.5 | -2.8 | -2.6 | -3.7 | -0.7 | -1.9 | -1.9 | -3.1 | -3.1 | 4.0 | 1.2 | -2.1 | 1.4 | -0.4 | -1.9 | -2.3 | 0.2 | -2.8 | -1.0 | 3.9 |
A | R | N | D | C | Q | E | G | H | I | L | K | M | F | P | S | T | W | Y | V |
The reason why the optimized matrix at first sight look very similar to the BLOSUM62 matrix is certainly that the latter is already a very good substitution matrix extensively used by the research community for homology detection. The slight differences in the substitution matrices, however, lead to significant improvements in the mean ⟨C⟩ value.
Results on independent test sets
ROC scores for the SW algorithm and the LA kernel in the independent dataset. The first column shows the scoring method. For example, BLOSUM62SWOPT is the matrix optimized for the SW algorithm starting from the BLOSUM62. The second column shows the performance of each score matrix by the SW algorithm on the COG distant test set. The following columns show the performance, in terms of average ROC score, of each matrix used in combination with either the SW algorithm or the LA kernel on four different datasets. The second row shows the performance of PSI-BLAST with the BLOSUM62 with gap open and extension parameters set to 11 and 1 (default), respectively. The best ROC score in each dataset is highlighted in bold font.
ROC score | ||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
Method | COG distant | COG close | PFAM distant | PFAM close | ||||
SW | LA | SW | LA | SW | LA | SW | LA | |
PSI-BLAST | 0.811 | 0.953 | 0.854 | 0.979 | ||||
BLOSUM62 | 0.840 | 0.852 | 0.950 | 0.951 | 0.931 | 0.932 | 0.985 | 0.990 |
BLOSUM62SWOPT | 0.856 | 0.869 | 0.950 | 0.950 | 0.941 | 0.940 | 0.983 | 0.983 |
BLOSUM62LAOPT | 0.878 | 0.895 | 0.949 | 0.948 | 0.946 | 0.947 | 0.984 | 0.982 |
Comparison of various scoring matrices and scoring algorithms. The first column shows the scoring matrices. For example, BLOSUM62SWOPT is the matrix optimized for the SW algorithm starting from the BLOSUM62 matrix. The second column shows the performance of each score matrix by the SW algorithm on the COG distant test set. The following columns show the performance, in terms of average C, of each matrix used in combination with either the SW algorithm or the LA kernel on four different datasets. The best ⟨C⟩ in each column is highlighted in bold font.
⟨C⟩ | ||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
Score matrix | COG distant | COG close | PFAM distant | PFAM close | ||||
SW | LA | SW | LA | SW | LA | SW | LA | |
BLOSUM62 | 0.35 | 0.42 | 0.72 | 0.73 | 0.45 | 0.49 | 0.76 | 0.78 |
BLOSUM62SWOPT | 0.42 | 0.42 | 0.70 | 0.71 | 0.49 | 0.51 | 0.75 | 0.77 |
BLOSUM62LAOPT | 0.43 | 0.51 | 0.67 | 0.69 | 0.47 | 0.54 | 0.72 | 0.75 |
PAM250 | 0.36 | 0.35 | 0.53 | 0.52 | 0.43 | 0.43 | 0.62 | 0.61 |
PAM250SWOPT | 0.38 | 0.37 | 0.57 | 0.56 | 0.44 | 0.44 | 0.65 | 0.64 |
PAM250LAOPT | 0.26 | 0.36 | 0.53 | 0.46 | 0.43 | 0.38 | 0.62 | 0.56 |
GCB | 0.13 | 0.12 | 0.33 | 0.32 | 0.12 | 0.11 | 0.37 | 0.36 |
GCBSWOPT | 0.25 | 0.24 | 0.50 | 0.50 | 0.17 | 0.19 | 0.55 | 0.56 |
GCBLAOPT | 0.14 | 0.15 | 0.39 | 0.31 | 0.16 | 0.093 | 0.44 | 0.38 |
JTT | 0.34 | 0.34 | 0.53 | 0.51 | 0.47 | 0.46 | 0.61 | 0.60 |
JTTSWOPT | 0.31 | 0.32 | 0.54 | 0.53 | 0.48 | 0.47 | 0.62 | 0.61 |
JTTLAOPT | 0.34 | 0.31 | 0.53 | 0.45 | 0.48 | 0.38 | 0.61 | 0.55 |
Discussion
The main contribution of this paper is to propose an optimization framework for substitution matrices based on an exact gradient descent method. This approach is made possible by the fact that the alignment score we consider, the LA kernel, is differentiable with respect to the substitution matrix, contrary to the SW alignment score. The fact that the matrix optimized with this approach outperforms the matrix optimized with the SW score even for the SW algorithm itself suggests that there is an important benefit for the LA kernel approach compared to the more heuristic nature of the optimization in the case of the SW score. It should be pointed out, however, that there is a continuum between the LA kernel and the SW score [7]. Indeed the LA kernel depends on a parameter β set to 0.5 in this study, but increasing β high enough finally leads to the SW score. In other words, the SW score, which is piecewise linear with respect to the elements of the substitution matrix (and therefore only piecewise differentiable), can be seen as the limit of infinitely differentiable functions. Intuitively, the optimization of the LA kernel can be thought of as the optimization of a smooth approximation of the SW score, which can more easily find good local optima. This suggests, in the spirit of simulated annealing, that further improvements for the SW algorithm might be obtained by optimizing the LA kernel and increasing β simultaneously; however, we leave this avenue of research for future work.
It should be pointed out that fixing the scaling parameter β to 0.5 is not a restriction in itself. Indeed, although the derivative of the LA kernel with respect to β can also be computed efficiently by dynamic programming, leading to the possibility of optimizing β as well as the substitution matrix and gap parameters, this would have no effect on the optimal score function that only depends on the products of β with the substitution and gap parameters. In other words, allowing β to vary would lead to an over-parameterized model. Although fixing β has therefore no effect on the global optimum of the objective function, it might nevertheless have an important effect on our optimization procedure because it defines where the optimization starts. Taking β = 0.5 with default gap and substitution parameter, which were shown in previous studies to perform well on remote homology detection, is certainly a safe choice as starting point of the optimization.
A second point to be highlighted is the good performance of the LA kernel as a similarity score compared to the SW score. While it was shown in [7] that the LA kernel outperforms the SW score as a kernel function for support vector machines, the present studies validate the relevance of the LA kernel as a measure of similarity. It should be pointed out that the advantage of the LA kernel over the SW score is expected to increase for remote homologs, because when the sequence identity is small the best local alignment computed by the SW score is likely not to be the correct one, and in this case multiple hits of relatively short suboptimal alignments (motifs)between two sequences would be of importance, leading to the idea that averaging scores over a large number of candidate alignments might provide better evidence for homology [11].
Finally, let us mention that the LA kernel is in fact infinitely differentiable, and its second derivative (Hessian) with respect to the substitution matrix could be computed, also by dynamic programming. It would therefore be possible, in principle, to use faster gradient descent algorithms such as Newton's method for the optimization. We did not follow this avenue in our experiments because this would require the computation of a 212 × 212 Hessian matrix at each iteration, which would need more than 100 times the amount of computation than without the computation of the Hessian. Of course, the Hessian is of no help for the SW algorithm, because it is constantly equal to zero on the points where the SW score is differentiable.
Conclusion
We proposed a method to optimize amino acid substitution matrices for the LA kernel, based on the properties of differentiability of the LA kernel with respect to the substitution matrix. This is the first time amino acid substitution matrices for pairwise sequence comparison are optimized for use with the forward algorithm [12]. The optimized matrices exhibit good performance on distant datasets both with the SW algorithm and the LA kernel, and they are competitive on close datasets. The derived matrices may be useful when standard methods fail to detect homologs.
Methods
In this section, we first show how to compute the derivative of the LA kernel with respect to the elements of an amino acid substitution matrix. Then we present an objective function meant to favor the discrimination between true homologs and non-homologs, and finally explain how we created the datasets used in this study.
The LA kernel
The LA kernel [7] between two sequences x and y is defined by
where β is a parameter, π runs over the possible local alignments between x and y, and s(x, y, π) is the score of an alignment π between x and y. The score of an alignment π is itself given by the sum of substitution scores for the letters paired together, minus an affine gap penalty:
where n_{a,b}(x, y, π) represents the number of times that the amino acid a is aligned with the amino acid b, S(a, b) denotes the substitution score between amino acids a and b, n_{ gd }(x, y,π) and n_{ ge }(x, y, π) are the number of gap opens and extensions, respectively, and g_{ d }and g_{ e }are penalties for gap open and gap extension, respectively.
As shown in (1) the LA kernel takes into account all possible alignments between two strings by summing the scores, and can be computed by the following algorithm.
Algorithm 1: local alignment kernel
In the above algorithm, M stands for the matching state between amino acids, while X, Y, X 2 and Y2 are for the states corresponding to insertions or deletions.
The score of the LA kernel is then described as the logarithm of (1):
The derivative of (2) with respect to S(a, b) can therefore be written as:
Note that the denominator of (3) is the same as (1), and can therefore be calculated by Algorithm 1 above, while the numerator of (3) is calculated by Algorithm 2 below.
Algorithm 2: derivative of local alignment kernel
In the above algorithm, δ((x_{ i }, y_{ j }) = (a, b)) is the Kronecker delta function which returns one if the i th amino acid of x is a and the j th amino acid of y is b, and zero otherwise. Derivative of local alignment kernel with respect to the gap open parameter g_{ d }and gap extension parameter g_{ e }can be calculated similarly.
Objective function
To assess the significance of the score on a database search, the Z-score is widely used:
where s is the score of a query against a candidate homolog in the database, and μ and σ are the mean and variance of the scores of a query versus possible non-homologs in the database. For extreme values (maxima or minima) such as the SW score, the extreme value distribution (EVD) is commonly used to assess the statistical significance of the scores. The probability that a given random score is equal to or greater than s is given by
where a and b are parameters for the extreme value distribution. Then for the search of a database of size D, the expected number of scores which are higher than s is E = Dp(μ > s). A natural objective function to quantify the performance of an algorithm for remote homology is therefore to minimize the E-values obtained on pairs of distant homologs. Following Kann et al. [19], we consider the confidence value C = 1/(1 + E), setting D = 100000 for the computation of the E- value, and define our objective function to be maximized as the average of C over a training set of homologous pairs.
If the score s is differentiable with respect to an amino acid substitution matrix and gap penalties (which we denote as a parameter θ here), then C and the derivative of C can be written as:
The derivative of Z with respect to θ is itself obtained by:
Optimization procedure
We used both the algorithms of Smith-Waterman and the LA kernel together with their derivatives, then maximized the objective function using gradient descent with Armijo's rule for line search [21].
For the optimization using Smith-Waterman algorithm, we adopted the same method as in [19], that is, to alternate both local optimization of the substitution matrix by gradient descent and computation of the best scoring alignment. Note that this alternation is not necessary the LA kernel.
Since there is no guarantee of reaching the global optimum, we used several starting matrices such as BLOSUM62, PAM250, GCB and JTT, with default gap parameters (12 and 2 for open and extension, respectively). In order to limit the over-fitting of the parameters to the training set, the optimization was carried out until the objective function reached a maximum on an independent validation set. The performance of the parameters selected by this procedure was then assessed on an independent test set.
Relationship between the LA kernel and the SW algorithm
It is known that the LA kernel is an approximation of the SW score for large β [7]. More precisely, the following holds:
Furthermore, the derivative of the LA kernel (1) with respect to the substitution score S(a, b) is equal to:
where E_{ π }denotes expectation with respect to the probability distribution $p\left(\pi \right)=\frac{{e}^{\beta s\left(x,y,\pi \right)}}{{\displaystyle {\sum}_{\pi}{e}^{\beta s\left(x,y,\pi \right)}}}$ on the set of possible alignments π . The probability of an alignment π therefore contributes to a proportion of the score of an alignment π to the score ${\widehat{K}}_{LA}^{\left(\beta \right)}\left(x,y\right)$, and forms a Gibbs distribution over tt with energy –s(x, y, π ). β can be thought of as the inverse temperature: at low temperature (large β), only the low-energy states (large score) have non-vanishing probability; at large temperature (small β), all states (all scores) have similar probability. Denoting by Π_{0}(x, y) the set of alignments π that have the maximum score, this shows that at low temperature one gets:
In the case where there exists a single alignment π_{0} that maximizes the score, then this reduces to n_{a,b}(x, y, π_{0}), which is exactly the derivative of the SW score in this case. This result clarifies the difference between taking the derivative of the LA kernel and that of the SW score when it exists. The derivative of the SW score is the amino acid residue count in the optimal alignment, while the derivative of the LA kernel is an expectation of an amino acid residue count over possible alignments. As a result, up to the β factor, the derivative of the LA kernel is an approximation of the derivative of the SW score when it exists. In particular the gradient of the LA kernel approximates the gradient used in the parameter optimization step of Kann et al.'s algorithm for large β. The same approximation properties hold for higher-order differentials, although the LA kernel is everywhere infinitely differentiable while the SW score is only piecewise linear over the space of substitution matrices.
Dataset
Training and testing to discriminate homologs from non-homologs was performed on the Cluster of Orthologous Group (COG) database [6]. We were interested in homologs whose homology is hard to detect, and collected sequences with less than 20% identity only from the COG database, resulting in 395 pairs of protein sequences. We used 300 of them for training, 48 for validation and the rest (47) for evaluation. Note that this threshold of identity (20%) is harder than that of Kann et al.'s methods in order to learn known but clearly distant relationships of homologs. Also, since it is always important to assess the confidence in an independent way, we prepared sequence pairs of distant homologs from the PFAM [5] database in a similar manner, resulting in 200 additional pairs, and used them as the second test set. The third and the fourth data sets are the COG close and PFAM close datasets – prepared by keeping the identity between 25% and 40%. We ran SSEARCH on all the sequences in the PFAM database against all the training and test set sequences from COGs in order to remove the similar sequences from the PFAM dataset using a threshold of E < 10.
Declarations
Acknowledgements
The computational resource was provided by Bioinformatics Center, Institute for Chemical Research, Kyoto University and the Supercomputer Laboratory, Kyoto University. Part of this work was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research #16300092 and "Systems Genomics" from MEXT of JAPAN, and the Japanese-French SAKURA grant. JPV is supported by NIH award R33 HG003070.
Authors’ Affiliations
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