 Methodology article
 Open Access
 Published:
Largescale clustering of CAGE tag expression data
BMC Bioinformatics volume 8, Article number: 161 (2007)
Abstract
Background
Recent analyses have suggested that many genes possess multiple transcription start sites (TSSs) that are differentially utilized in different tissues and cell lines. We have identified a huge number of TSSs mapped onto the mouse genome using the cap analysis of gene expression (CAGE) method. The standard hierarchical clustering algorithm, which gives us easily understandable graphical tree images, has difficulties in processing such huge amounts of TSS data and a better method to calculate and display the results is needed.
Results
We use a combination of hierarchical and nonhierarchical clustering to cluster expression profiles of TSSs based on a large amount of CAGE data to profit from the best of both methods. We processed the genomewide expression data, including 159,075 TSSs derived from 127 RNA samples of various organs of mouse, and succeeded in categorizing them into 70–100 clusters. The clusters exhibited intriguing biological features: a cluster supergroup with a ubiquitous expression profile, tissuespecific patterns, a distinct distribution of noncoding RNA and functional TSS groups.
Conclusion
Our approach succeeded in greatly reducing the calculation cost, and is an appropriate solution for analyzing largescale TSS usage data.
Background
Large amounts of gene expression data are now available, generated by the wellknown oligonucleotide chip, cDNA microarray, and serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) techniques, as well as by new tiling array techniques [1–5]. These techniques are used in largescale gene expression analyses for classifying gene expression patterns [6, 7]. However, most of the techniques can only recognize a group of transcript variants as a single transcript, because all variants hybridize to the same probe on the arrays, hiding the distinct expression regulation of each variant reflecting the condition of tissues and developmental stages.
Recently, we have developed a gene expression measurement technique, called cap analysis of gene expression (CAGE), which effectively detects distinct transcription start site sequences, and marks the location with what we call CAGE tags. CAGE tags are grouped into tag clusters (TCs), where the member tags map to the same strand of a chromosome and overlap by at least 1 bp. Analysis of TCs enables us to recognize representative TSSs and their upstream regulatory elements [8]. Massive CAGE analysis in the Functional Annotation of Mouse (FANTOM) 3 activity has shown that one gene locus, or transcription unit (TU), can have as many as three TCs on average, resulting in alternative transcripts [9]. Some of these alternative transcripts are translated into proteins with distinct biological functions [10, 11]. Therefore, identifying TSSs is an essential process for researching the mechanisms that regulate gene expression in a variety of tissues and developmental stages. It is also important to quantify the absolute expression values for each TSS, rather than the relative expression level compared to reference RNA. In this context, CAGE analysis indicates discrete TSSs expression intensities. Using these characteristic features of CAGE analysis, we have developed a calibration method to exchange relative expression values for absolute counts of mRNA in a sample [12].
As a consequence of the complex features of transcriptional gene expression regulation, the number of TCs (equal to representative TSSs) that needs to be analyzed totals 159,075 (from 127 mouse samples) from FANTOM3 [9], far exceeding the number of actual genes [13]. If we were to attempt analyzing this CAGE data, the large number of TSSs might prevent a realistic determination of the solution due to the sheer size. Therefore, more effective systems need to be developed for processing the expected amount of TSS data. Although various methods have been reported for clustering of expression data [14], some of them are difficult to use, having high computational requirements. For instance, it is difficult for a standard 32 bit personal computer to process more than 40,000 genes using hierarchical clustering, for the algorithm consumes more than 8G bytes of memory.
Here, we report the system and methods of a twostep clustering of CAGE TSS data in detail, where we combine different clustering methods. By using nonhierarchical clustering, we can save computational power, even if the amount of data surpasses the ordinarily computable amount of data for hierarchical clustering. The Usage of this twostep method in FANTOM3 activity has been already succeeded in showing a part of the clustering results such as the relations between different clusters and the classification of a huge amount of upstream sequence of the CAGE tags [9]. Then, here we will compare two results of the clustering in different numbers of clusters, and assess the validity of our method by examining whether clustering data indicates molecular functions annotated by GO terminology. Both results seem to provide the visually understandable hierarchical tree structure that can be widely used by biologists. This attempt, here we would demonstrate, let us confirm cluster data agreed with past biological findings reflected in GO terms, and notice new findings about agingrelated genes. Besides the systemic determination of gene network architecture in yeast [15], our approach is the first to cluster TSS groups for wholegenome transcripts, including noncoding RNA.
Systems and Methods
Overview of clustering strategy
The clustering method has two steps. The first step is a robust process to divide the dataset into small enough parts to enable the employment of hierarchical clustering algorithms. The division is performed with the kmeans method, which is suitable for large amounts of gene expression data littered with noise [16, 17]. This needs a lower calculation order (O (Nk); N: number of data items; k: number of clusters) and demands less computational memory than the hierarchical method (which needs O (N^{2}) of memory and more than O (N^{2}) of the corresponding calculation order).
The second step of the analysis is done with hierarchical clustering (for an overview of tree clustering and hierarchical clustering of individual groups, see Figure 1), based on the calculation results from the first step, such as the cluster centroid and number of TSSs in each cluster. This twostep clustering method provides us with a good graphical representation reflecting the biological significance of the FANTOM3 data, which is easy to analyze statistically and gives a biologist a general view of the data in order to analyze clusters. Figure 1a,b shows our calculation procedure.
Number of clusters
Nonhierarchical methods (similar to kmeans) require a suitable number of clusters. However, it is difficult to decide the optimal number of clusters and the question of how many clusters to use has been discussed and there are several ways to decide the cluster number [15, 18, 19]. To decide the optimum number of groups, information criteria such as Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) and Minimum Description Length (MDL) [20, 21] or simple functions such as the mean square error (MSE) can be used. In our case, we have evaluated this number by using the normalized residual sum of squares (nRSS), which is based on the statistical characteristics of the data. The nRSS is one of the simpler prediction functions given by the following equation, to estimate and validate the number of clusters:
where the cluster number is l {l = 1,..., L} where L is the total number of clusters, the number of TCs in each cluster is n_{ l }(l = 1,..., L), and TC expression vectors in each cluster l are $\overrightarrow{x}$_{l,i}{i = 1,..., n_{ l }}. The cluster centroid vector of $\overrightarrow{x}$_{l, i}{i = 1,..., n_{ l }} is $\overline{\overrightarrow{x}}$_{ l }. To validate this model, we used the 10fold cross validation method. All of the CAGE TC data were randomly divided into 10 subgroups. Dataset D( j) was a combination of 9 subgroups other than j (1 ≤ j ≤ 10), and was used for estimation of the number of clusters. The index for estimation, nRSS(e), was the average of the results from the calculation by the equation when j was changed from 1 to 10 in dataset D( j). Dataset D(j) was the j th subgroup, which was used to validate the estimated result. The index for validation, nRSS(v), is the calculated result using dataset D(j).
Link algorithm
To connect the nonhierarchical (first) clustering result with the hierarchical (second) clustering algorithms, and to draw a clustering overview tree, we used the information of cluster centroids and the number of cluster members from the first step. The application of these nonhierarchical clustering results is different depending on the link algorithm used in the hierarchical clustering. Here, we mention two cases. In the case of averagelinkage algorithms, the equation of the link algorithm is as follows:
where a, b, c, x is the specific cluster number, d_{ xa }is the distance between cluster a and cluster x and n_{ a }is the number of members in cluster a. Note that, at the first merging, n_{ a }, n_{ b },....n_{ x }are the number of the members in each cluster, which is calculated by kmeans clustering (see Figure 1b). In the original averagelinkage algorithm, this value is always 1. We substituted these values with the result of the nonhierarchical clustering (the first step). This equation will depend on the hierarchical clustering link algorithm chosen by the user. In the case of complete linkage algorithms, our method does not affect the calculation because the algorithm does not use the number of cluster members.
Results
Decision of number of clusters
Figure 2 shows the relationship between number of clusters and values of nRSS indices, nRSS(e) and nRSS(v), calculated with the estimation dataset and the validation dataset, respectively (see Systems and Methods). The value of nRSS decreased as the number of clusters increased, as is expected from the inverse relation of these two parameters; thus, a local minimum of the value of nRSS(v) can be settled in the selected range (0 to 200) of the number of clusters. Indeed, in an approximation with the nRSS index, the index value approached a certain constant value when the number of clusters reached 70. From this index, we decided that the optimum number of clusters is 70 (L = 70 in equation (1)). Moreover, by substituting this number with 100 in the following example below, we were able to show that the change has no essential influence on the analytical result, giving no reason for further division of the CAGE data. In the second step clustering, we applied the hierarchical averagelinkage algorithm to the 70 and 100 cluster groups. The most important point in this step is that the number of elements in the hierarchical clustering calculation decreases from 159 075 (TSSs) to 70 or 100 (clusters). The size of memory needed to calculate the Cophenetic matrix, essential for the processing of this clustering algorithm, decreases drastically from 126G bytes to 24K bytes. As a result, hierarchical clustering algorithms can be executed even when the number of data points is huge. In the next section, we focus on the clustering result divided into 70 clusters, and point out that the result agrees with existing findings. Afterwards, we discuss the resulting differences between the calculation of data divided into 70 or 100 clusters.
Verification of two step clustering
1. Expression pattern
Figure 3 shows the clustering results of CAGE expression data (divided into 70 clusters). Among these clusters, several supergroups, cluster families with distinct expression patterns and biological features, appeared. Supergroup A_{(70)},(A _{(70)}: group A is part of the dataset which was divided into 70), which is composed of clusters 23_{(70)} to 42_{(70)} (not numerical order; see Figure 3, formed a large "ubiquitous and high expression" group, including TCs expressed in most examined mouse organs, tissues, and cell lines. This group was characterized by a lower "number of TCs", which means that the clusters are composed of a small number of transcripts each (710 per cluster on average), and that they have a larger "total expression": the total amount of expression per cluster was more than 10 000 tags per million (except cluster 23_{(70)}).
Clusters outside supergroup A_{(70)}, formed several other supergroups, characterized by tissuespecific expression patterns. The clusters 3_{(70)}, 4_{(70)}, 39_{(70)}, 41_{(70)}, 63_{(70)}, and 64_{(70)} that did not form supergroups, were characterized by broad and high expression levels with tissuespecific expression patterns. Clusters 3_{(70)} and 39_{(70)} were dominantly expressed in the lung, cluster 64_{(70)} in macrophages, and clusters 4_{(70)}, 41_{(70)} and 63_{(70)} in the brain. Supergroup A and these 7 clusters form a "broad and high expression" cluster family. In contrast to this, clusters 49_{(70)} and 14_{(70)} were "broad and low expression" clusters, enclosing the largest and the secondlargest numbers of TCs (38 078 and 13 786 per cluster, respectively), and therefore resulting in low expression values (5 to 6 tags per million on average), even if the total expression in each cluster was high.
To evaluate the difference in the result that may be caused by different numbers of clusters, we compared the relation of the supergroups and clusters in two datasets where the data were divided into either 70 or 100 clusters. Figure 4 is a result of the hierarchical clustering (the second step) using the data divided into 100 clusters, and there are no significant differences between the two cluster numbers in Figure 3 and 4 when we compare it with our earlier results. Figure 4 has the supergroups A, B and tissuespecific clusters similar to the structures observed in Figure 3. Figure 5 shows the number of TC overlaps between the two data sets. About 91% of the TCs belonging to supergroup A_{(100)}, belong also to supergroup A_{(70)}. The lung specific cluster 61_{(100)}, consists in part of cluster 3_{(70)}, and cluster 2_{(100)} is partly made up by cluster 39_{(70)}. Clusters 66_{(100)}, 20_{(100)} and 32_{(100)}, which are mostly expressed in the brain, correspond to the clusters 4_{(70)}, 41_{(70)}, and 63_{(70)}, respectively, further decreasing the difference between the two data sets.
2. Gene ontology terms
To validate the biological relevance of the clusters, we identified clusterspecific gene ontology (GO) terms by Pvalues [22].
The ontologies are structured as directed acyclic graphs, which are similar to hierarchies. A more specialized term has parents of a more generalized term. If a general term is selected, it may contain several GO terms with opposite biological meanings: for example, a general GO term, apoptosis (GO:0006915), contains antiapoptosis (GO:0006916) and induction of apoptosis (GO:0006917). Then, we first selected specialized GOs related to organspecific functions: glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, and neurotransmitters [23], to test whether the transcripts in the clusters with tissuespecific expression patterns could be annotated by proper GO terms. Indeed, TCs in supergroup B_{(70)}, which is expressed in the brain, were tightly related to the GO category for neurotransmitters; TCs in cluster 52_{(70)}, which originated from muscle tissues, were annotated for glycolysis; and TCs in cluster 51_{(70)} and 16_{(100)}, dominantly expressed in the liver, were characterized by GOs for gluconeogenesis (Figure 3, 4). The consistency between the GO terms and the expression patterns in the clusters allowed us to propose the function of transcripts as involved in the distinct biological activities of these organs.
Because transcripts have a wide variety of biological functions, our samples, mostly derived from normal mice, were not diverse enough to provide appropriate TCs for all GOs, but they were enough to elicit the TCs obtained in particular conditions and to form concordant clusters with more general GO terms. TCs in cluster 17_{(70)} was largely derived from embryos (CFT to CFW; Figure 3) and was annotated by GOs for cell cycle, which is reasonable given the active cell division found in embryos. TCs in cluster 65_{(70)}, with a prominent Pvalue for apoptosis (10^{5}), originated from macrophages, which undergo apoptosis [9].
We compared the members of TCs formed by two different numbers of clusters (70 and 100 clusters in figure 3 and 4, respectively). The correspondence of the clusters formed in the two different clusterings is shown in figure 5. Most of the TCs in supergroup A_{(70)} and B_{(70)} belong to corresponding clusters in supergroup A_{(100)} and B_{(100)} respectively Further, we were able to show their prominent Pvalues of GOs in the clusters, showing similar GO pvalues to those of the corresponding clusters. For example, the clusters 50_{(100)} and 90_{(100)} contained almost the same TCs as 65_{(70)} and 52_{(70)}, respectively resulting in mostly the same GO Pvalues. Because the TC members and their GO Pvalues of the clusters was thereby almost the same, regardless of the cluster number, we could assume that our attempts to annotate the clusters by GO succeeded well, and the results were not influenced by differences in the number of clusters.
3. Noncoding RNA
In the FANTOM3 activity we cloned 34 030 noncoding transcripts, which comprised 33% of the total transcripts [9]. We tested whether there was any tendency of noncoding TC expression (noncoding Pvalue in Figure 3, 4). A large number of noncoding TCs (1,318 noncoding TCs in 11,264 TCs) were contained in the "broad and high expression" supergroup A_{(70)} (Pvalues < 10^{6} except clusters 11_{(70)}), but not in the "broad and low expression" clusters (Pvalues > 5%) or "other tissuespecific" clusters (Pvalue > 10^{3}). Thus, in this computational method, the number of noncoding TCs detected with this CAGE analysis is tightly related to the proportion of TCs with broad and high expression levels. In the data set divided into 100, the results are similar: the majority of the noncoding TCs appear in supergroup A_{(100)} (1,348 noncoding TCs in 11,521 TCs) with "broad and high expression". Thus, our method is more suitable to analyze statistical tendencies across several clusters than the kmeans method alone, since kmeans cannot describe or detect the relations between clusters.
Discussion
Genomewide surveys of gene expression are gaining in importance, and computational methods capable of handling the enormous amount of information generated are sorely needed. Here we propose a mathematical clustering method using genomewide TSS data derived from transcripts in various organs, tissues, and cell lines of mice from the FANTOM3 consortium [9]. The study of sequencebased TSSs has unique problems. One problem is the difficulty in dealing with the entire data set, because the amount of data is huge and much larger than the number of genes.
To solve this problem, we devised a computational method that combines two different clustering methods to analyze CAGE expression data. The calculation procedure is as follows (Figure 1); firstly we decided on the number of clusters of TSS data (Figure 2), and then we used kmeans clustering (non hierarchical). Secondly, we performed a tree view clustering (hierarchical clustering) to visualize the distance between the clusters (Figure 3, 4) by using the results from the first step. Our new method is useful in combining the merits of two calculation methods: the high degree of noise tolerance and calculation order of the nonhierarchical clustering and the improvement of the entire data by the second step.
Euclidean distance, one of the basic distance functions, was used as the distance metric of the first step, but it is possible to optimize the results by testing a variety of distance functions [14, 16]. The use of other distance functions may give clusters with clearer GO term characteristics. Although other methods [24, 25] have been proposed to reduce the calculation time of hierarchical clustering, these methods still require a huge amount of memory. In addition, they have a problem of making a visually understandable tree from such a large amount of data as ours. At this point, Tight Clustering is probably one of the powerful methods for a large amount of data [26]. One of the difficulties of this modelbased method is the requirement of the choice of several parameters, which can cause some artifacts. In a widely used experimental method like microarray, the investigation of the parameter space can be done in advance. However, for a novel experimental method like CAGE, the a priori setting of parameters for a model based approach becomes very difficult. Here, a heuristic approach like ours might be the more appropriate choice.
The 70 clusters we obtained were well characterized by CAGETC expression patterns and gene ontology, proving our method's suitability for analyzing CAGE data. We have published another paper that shows the correlation between the expression pattern and upstream sequences of TSSs, noncoding RNA analysis, and alternative promoters in proteincoding genes [27]: if these data are combined, as in Figure 3 and 4, the features of gene expression regulation specific to biological function and upstream transcription regulatory elements can be easily and informatively described in a pleasing way. In Figure 3, we show that the clusters 5_{(70)} and 69_{(70)}, which belong to supergroup A_{(70)}, were rich of noncoding RNAs located in the last exon. As mentioned in our previous article [27], noncoding RNA that are derived from 3'UTR may function as regulatory RNA. The TCs in these clusters were accumulated in the visual cortex and in the embryo. This may suggest that the noncoding RNA derived from the last exon, which contains the 3'UTR, may play particular roles in these tissues. However, we would not deeply discuss a biological meaning of the clusters in this paper because we do focus on the discussion concerning the methodology. Likewise, by using the method described here, we can gather new information on biological processes by combining and comparing different TSSbased data.
Appendix
Materials
All RNA samples used were the same as used in the FANTOM3 analysis [9]. Detailed information corresponding to RNA sample IDs used in this clustering can be seen in the FANTOM3 Basic Viewer [28]. We chose 127 libraries which has more than 1500 mapped tags from among 209 CAGE libraries. The CAGE libraries, which are nonnormalized, unsubtracted, and unfractionated, were prepared according to Shiraki et al. [8]. 5'End sequences of fulllength transcripts (CAGE tags) were mapped to the mouse genome version UCSC mm5 by the procedure described by Carninci et al. in [9]. To establish the correspondence between CAGE tags and TUs, we used the Representative Transcript Set [29].
Calculation of Pvalues of TC to GO association
TCs were easily connected to GO terms. Most TCs were included in specific TUs defined by the RTPS dataset [29], in which the TUs were connected to GO terms. Pvalues of the TCGO association were calculated from the number of TCs connected to certain GO terms and the total number of TCs in the cluster by R Statistics software [30] in a onesided Fisher's exact test. The term "Random" in Figure 3 and 4 shows whether each cluster significantly contains randomly chosen TCs. We did another test that randomized all the relations between TC and the expression. The Fisher's test yielded significant pvalues in very few clusters. See supplementary web site [31].
Noncoding RNA dataset
The noncoding RNAs were the FANTOM clones predicted to be noncoding by at least 2 out of 3 methods: CRITICA (Coding Region Identification Tool Invoking Comparative Analysis) [32], mTRANS and rsCDS [33].
Software and expression data processing
The software used for the kmeans (first step) was EISEN Cluster3 1.27 [34], maximum number of repetitions for the calculation of Figure 2, 3 and 4 were 5 and 100, respectively. Rand seed was 100 (for Figure 3, 4), and the tree view (second step) clustering procedure was Cluster3 1.31 [34], modified by our group. In this clustering, we used Euclidean distance (first step and second step: RNA sample clustering), and Uncentered correlation (second step: TC cluster clustering) for the distance metric. Pairwise averagelinkage was used in the hierarchical clustering algorithm. The expression values were converted to logtransformed tags per million. Programs (diff file) and some details, used in this paper, are available at the supplementary web site [31].
Abbreviations
 CAGE:

cap analysis of gene expression
 FANTOM:

functional annotation of mouse
 TU:

transcription unit
 TC:

tag cluster
 TSS:

transcription start site
 GO:

gene ontology
 nRSS:

normalized residual sum of squares.
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Acknowledgements
We thank Dr. Hiromi Nishida for fruitful discussions about noncoding RNA; Ms. Fumi Hori for technical support; Ann Karlsson for English editing; and Mr. Kenji Nakano and Mr. Hidenori Murakami (NTT Software Corporation) for database construction. M.C.F. is a University of Queensland Postdoctoral Fellow. This work was supported by a Research Grant for Strategic Programs for R&D of RIKEN to Y.H.; a Research Grant for the Advanced and Innovational Research Program in Life Science to Y.H.; a Research Grant for the RIKEN Genome Exploration Research Project from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan to Y.H.; and a grant of the Genome Network Project from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan to Y.H.
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KS and TK conceived the method of clustering. KS were responsible for the implementation of clustering software and drafted the manuscript. YO provided advice and conceived the biological validation sequence, and helped draft the manuscript. MCF collected the data. PC and YH provided advice and supervised the research group. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
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Keywords
 Gene Ontology
 Hierarchical Cluster Algorithm
 Multiple Transcription Start Site
 Hierarchical Cluster Link Algorithm
 Cluster Centroid Vector