- Open Access
Gene Prospector: An evidence gateway for evaluating potential susceptibility genes and interacting risk factors for human diseases
© Yu et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2008
- Received: 10 September 2008
- Accepted: 08 December 2008
- Published: 08 December 2008
Millions of single nucleotide polymorphisms have been identified as a result of the human genome project and the rapid advance of high throughput genotyping technology. Genetic association studies, such as recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS), have provided a springboard for exploring the contribution of inherited genetic variation and gene/environment interactions in relation to disease. Given the capacity of such studies to produce a plethora of information that may then be described in a number of publications, selecting possible disease susceptibility genes and identifying related modifiable risk factors is a major challenge. A Web-based application for finding evidence of such relationships is key to the development of follow-up studies and evidence for translational research.
We developed a Web-based application that selects and prioritizes potential disease-related genes by using a highly curated and updated literature database of genetic association studies. The application, called Gene Prospector, also provides a comprehensive set of links to additional data sources.
We compared Gene Prospector results for the query "Parkinson" with a list of 13 leading candidate genes (Top Results) from a curated, specialty database for genetic associations with Parkinson disease (PDGene). Nine of the thirteen leading candidate genes from PDGene were in the top 10th percentile of the ranked list from Gene Prospector. In fact, Gene Prospector included more published genetic association studies for the 13 leading candidate genes than PDGene did.
Gene Prospector provides an online gateway for searching for evidence about human genes in relation to diseases, other phenotypes, and risk factors, and provides links to published literature and other online data sources. Gene Prospector can be accessed via http://www.hugenavigator.net/HuGENavigator/geneProspectorStartPage.do.
- Genetic Association
- Parkinson Disease
- Genetic Association Study
- Unify Medical Language System
- Gene Prospector
Variation in the human genome contributes to differences in response to environmental risk factors and disease susceptibility . As a result of the Human Genome Project  and advances in new genotyping technology , genetic association studies have been flourishing. Recently, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have begun to systematically examine large numbers of genetic associations . Synthesis of this information is a first step in translating the new knowledge gained from basic research to applications for clinical practice and public health .
Although many data sources for genes and diseases are in the public domain, finding published results with potential implications for understanding gene-disease relationships and gene-environment interactions is not a trivial task. Gene Prospector is a Web-based application designed to help researchers prioritize and evaluate evidence for genes related to human disease or interactions with non-genetic risk factors. Gene Prospector provides supporting evidence derived from a curated published literature database  and offers quick links to a variety of data sources. Gene Prospector ranks the genes according to the amount of published literature in human genome epidemiology, as well as relevant, published research in two animal (rat and mouse) models. Gene Prospector is a component of HuGE Navigator, an integrated knowledge base for genetics association and human genome epidemiology .
Gene Prospector was developed as a component of HuGE Navigator, an integrated, searchable, Web-based knowledge base of genetic associations and human genome epidemiology. The HuGE Navigator knowledge base was developed on an open-source infrastructure developed by Yu, et al.. The Gene Prospector was built by using J2EE technology  and on other Java open-source frameworks such as Hibernate  and Strut . MS SQL server was used as a database server.
Content extraction and indexing
Published literature in human genome epidemiology is selected from PubMed and deposited in the HuGE Navigator database. The database contains a curated collection of selected PubMed records from 2001 to the present . PubMed records are retrieved from PubMed weekly, such that the database contents on average lag 1 week behind PubMed. Each week, the text mining program developed by Yu, et al.  is used to perform an initial screen of records newly added to PubMed. The curator then reviews the abstracts and manually indexes each abstract that meets the selection criteria  with gene symbols, categories and study types. Once available, MeSH terms for each article are retrieved from the PubMed database using The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) E-Utilities . The MeSH tree structure  is used for efficient record retrieval. To facilitate free text search, the metathesaurus in the Unified Medical Language System is used as a lookup table for term synonyms. Entrez Gene records from NCBI Entrez Gene database  are used as standards for gene information. The detailed schema for the literature database can be found in reference .
Gene Selection and Prioritization
Hi: Number of all publications for a given gene and search term
: Total number of all publications for the search term
GAi: Number of genetic association study publications for a given gene and search term
: Total number of genetic association study publications for the search term
GWASi: Number of genome-wide association publications for a given gene and search term
: Total number of genome-wide association publications for the search term.
MAi: Number of meta-analysis analysis publications for a given gene and search term
: Total number of meta-analysis analysis publications for the search term
GTi: Number of genetic testing publications for a given gene and search term
: Total number of genetic testing publications for the search term
(1). Higher when score is higher;
(2). Higher when animal evidence exists, if score is equal.
Other Data Sources
For each gene, quick links are provided to key gene-centered databases for general information, published literature, gene variation and expression, pathways, and other data. SNP information for each gene is dynamically retrieved from the dbSNP database and displayed by mutation function categories (nonsynonymous, synonymous, splice site, UTR, intron). Each function category links to detailed information for each SNP. Links to PolyDoms  and SNPs3D  display prediction analysis for nonsynonymous and synonymous SNPs.
Clicking the PubMed hyperlink dynamically generates a PubMed query combining all relevant gene aliases and protein names. For example, the PubMed query for CCR5 and HIV is generated as follows:
("CCR5" [TIAB] or "CCR5" [mesh term] or "chemokine (C-C motif) receptor 5" [TIAB] or "chemokine (C-C motif) receptor 5" [mesh term] or "CC-CKR-5" [TIAB] or "CCCKR5" [TIAB] or "CD195" [TIAB] or "CKR-5" [TIAB] or "CKR5" [TIAB] or "CMKBR5" [TIAB]) and ((hiv))
Animal study evidence is obtained by querying the Entrez Gene mouse and rat genome databases with the user query. The query term is sent to the NCBI Entrez Gene database via E-Utilities . The returning list of gene symbols from the mouse or rat genome is compared with the given human gene symbol list. The human gene is considered to have animal evidence if the animal gene symbols are found on the human gene list.
System evaluation and comparison
Parkinson disease was used as a test case because a specialty database is available for comparison. PDGene is a curated, on-line database specific for Parkinson disease that provides updated collections of genetic association studies from the published literature and summaries for each gene related to the disease . PDGene also includes a Top Results gene list; genes are selected for this list based on reported effect size, as described on the PDGene Web site . The Gene Prospector gene list was created by the Gene Prospector query "Parkinson". For an additional comparison, a ranked gene list was generated by the SNPs3D query "Parkinson".
For each of the PDGene Top Results genes, all publications describing genetic associations with Parkinson disease were retrieved from both PDGene and Gene Prospector and the lists were compared.
Ascertainment of genetic association studies
Thirteen genes on PDGene top results list: numbers of related publications obtained by querying PDGene and Gene Prospector on 05/25/2008.
(Genetic Association Studies)
Gene Prospector Only
Thirteen genes on PDGene Top Results list: ranks and rank percentiles generated by querying Gene Prospector and SNPs3D on 06/26/2008.
Gene information display and links to integrated evidence
Gene-centered data sources for Gene Prospector.
Genetics Home Reference
Genetic Association Database
Human Gene Mutation Database
International HapMap Project
The Cancer Genome Anatomy Project
Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes
Pathway Interaction Database
NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus
NCBI Gene Ontology Database
Rapid advances in "omic" technologies and basic research have led to discovery of genetic variants, genetic associations, and biomarkers. These advances show promise for translation into applications for clinical practice and health care . Conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of population-based genetic association data is an essential approach to synthesizing knowledge for translation. Some recent publications [20, 21] have demonstrated the value of this approach; however, this work is usually painstaking and slow. Even now systematic reviews are lacking for many associations . To facilitate such efforts, Gene Prospector has been developed as an evidence gateway to key information sources, selecting genes studied for association with human traits and diseases.
Many gene-centered databases have been developed to gather information related to specific genes. For example, the NCBI Entrez Gene  and GeneCard  databases attempt to capture all relevant information, including gene-disease associations. However, because they were designed from gene-centered perspective in terms of query functionality, it is not easy to retrieve information related to specific diseases or risk factors. Several different approaches to candidate gene selection have been proposed and implemented. For example, G2D  is a bioinformatics tool for predicting genes associated with disease based on multiple information sources, including gene functions in sequence, literature reports, and genetic associations with similar phenotypes. The latter are from a pre-computed list of monogenetic diseases derived from Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) , which limits the value of this tool for studies of complex diseases.
SNPs3D is another online database that performs candidate gene selection. SNPs3D applies a heuristic ranking formula to PubMed records downloaded from the NCBI Gene database GeneRIFs (Gene References Into Function) section. In contrast to SNPs3D, Gene Prospector uses a continuously updated and curated data source that is specific for human genetic association studies and classified by publication type, so that more important publications receive greater weight in the scoring formula. Using the PDGene database for comparison, we demonstrated that the Gene Prospector performed better than SNPs3D.
We based our heuristic scoring formula on the total number of publications in the database for a particular gene-disease combination, with additional weight given to four different types of publications: genetic association studies, genome-wide association studies, meta-analyses/pooled analyses, and articles about genetic testing. The added weights reflect the relative importance of such articles in evaluating the evidence for genetic association.
A list of genes ranked by score allows users to see quickly which associations have been studied most often and most systematically. Thus, the main focus of Gene Prospector is not to predict genetic associations with diseases or outcomes but to provide an efficient resource for users seeking to evaluate genetic associations. The Gene Prospector's prioritized gene list for Parkinson overlapped substantially with the Top Results gene list from PDGene, a curated database for genetic association studies of Parkinson disease. Clearly, such a list is no substitute for priorities based on a specialized database curated by a domain expert. However, few such databases currently exist, outside formal research consortia, and even fewer are freely accessible online. However, a prioritized list produced by our scoring strategy may be useful as a starting point for evaluating genetic associations in fields in which specialized resources are not available. As an evidence gateway, Gene Prospector provides a set of links for each candidate gene to curated subsets of published studies (e.g., GWAS); thus, it provides researchers with an information center for quickly and systematically retrieving the evidence needed to evaluate candidate genes for relationships with diseases or risk factors.
The HuGE Navigator database is one of most frequently updated and highly curated literature repositories in the field of genetic association studies. Recently, publications based on GWAS have become a leading source of replicated genetic associations . In collaboration with the Catalog of Published Genome-Wide Association Studies , we aim to maintain the most complete and updated collection of GWAS publications. The heuristic scoring function in Gene Prospector gives greater weight to GWAS publications because their abstracts typically feature genes with statistically significant associations. Genes included in meta-analyses also receive extra weight because these labor-intensive analyses tend to be conducted exclusively for associations with the greatest amount of evidence .
The Gene Prospector takes advantage of features of the other applications in HuGE Navigator to make information more accessible and easy to navigate; for example, the link to Genopedia provides summaries and quick data links related to the gene. The link to HuGE Literature Finder allows users to continue navigating the information contained in the PubMed abstract of each article. The current version of the Gene Prospector provides information mostly at the gene level, with links to generic information on SNPs. To enhance and enrich the evidence that Gene Prospector can offer, we are in the process of extracting quantitative genetic association data from published meta-analyses, such as numbers of cases and controls, effect sizes, and measures of heterogeneity. The integration of variant-level information into the evidence and scoring system would make Gene Prospector even more useful.
The Gene Prospector is a unique bioinformatics tool that is seamlessly integrated with other applications in HuGE Navigator. The application provides a central place to obtain information for evaluating genetic associations and conducting translational research. The Gene Prospector presents a wide spectrum of information from molecular biology to published studies, as well as quick links to key genetic data resources.
Gene Prospector is freely available at http://www.hugenavigator.net/HuGENavigator/geneProspectorStartPage.do
We thank Melinda Clyne for her curation of the literature database. We also thank the valuable comments on the manuscript from Quanhe Yang.
- Rebbeck TR, Spitz M, Wu X: Assessing the function of genetic variants in candidate gene association studies. Nat Rev Genet 2004, 5: 589–597. 10.1038/nrg1403View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Guttmacher AE, Collins FS: Realizing the promise of genomics in biomedical research. JAMA 2005, 294: 1399–1402. 10.1001/jama.294.11.1399View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kim S, Misra A: SNP genotyping: technologies and biomedical applications. Annu Rev Biomed Eng 2007, 9: 289–320. 10.1146/annurev.bioeng.9.060906.152037View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- McCarthy MI, Abecasis GR, Cardon LR, Goldstein DB, Little J, Ioannidis JP: Genome-wide association studies for complex traits: consensus, uncertainty and challenges. Nat Rev Genet 2008, 9: 356–369. 10.1038/nrg2344View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Khoury MJ, Gwinn M, Yoon PW, Dowling N, Moore CA, Bradley L: The continuum of translation research in genomic medicine: how can we accelerate the appropriate integration of human genome discoveries into health care and disease prevention? Genet Med 2007, 9: 665–674.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lin BK, Clyne M, Walsh M, Gomez O, Yu W, Gwinn M, Khoury JM: Tracking the epidemiology of human genes in the literature: the HuGE Published Literature database. Am J Epidemiol 2006, 164: 1–4. 10.1093/aje/kwj175View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Yu W, Gwinn M, Clyne M, Yesupriya A, Khoury MJ: A navigator for human genome epidemiology. Nat Genet 2008, 40: 124–125. 10.1038/ng0208-124View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Yu W, Yesupriya A, Wulf A, Qu J, Khoury MJ, Gwinn M: An open source infrastructure for managing knowledge and finding potential collaborators in a domain-specific subset of PubMed, with an example from human genome epidemiology. BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8: 436. 10.1186/1471-2105-8-436PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Singh I, Stearns B, Johnson M, Enterprise Team: Designing Enterprise Applications with the J2EE Platform. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co; 2002.Google Scholar
- Hibernate. JBoss Enterprise Middleware System 2006[http://www.hibernate.org/]
- Apache Struts. The Apache Software Foundation. 2006[http://struts.apache.org/]
- Yu W, Clyne M, Dolan SM, Yesupriya A, Wulf A, Liu T, Khoury MJ, Gwinn M: GAPscreener: an automatic tool for screening human genetic association literature in PubMed using the support vector machine technique. BMC Bioinformatics 2008, 9: 205. 10.1186/1471-2105-9-205PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Entrez Programming Utilities[http://eutils.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query/static/eutils_help.html]
- The MeSH Tree Structure[http://www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/disted/mesh/tree.html]
- Entrez Gene[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?DB=gene]
- Jegga AG, Gowrisankar S, Chen J, Aronow BJ: PolyDoms: a whole genome database for the identification of non-synonymous coding SNPs with the potential to impact disease. Nucleic Acids Res 2007, 35: D700-D706. 10.1093/nar/gkl826PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Yue P, Melamud E, Moult J: SNPs3D: candidate gene and SNP selection for association studies. BMC Bioinformatics 2006, 7: 166. 10.1186/1471-2105-7-166PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Entrez Programming Utilitiesbethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine; 2006. [http://eutils.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query/static/eutils_help.html]
- The PDGene Database[http://www.pdgene.org/]
- Allen NC, Bagade S, McQueen MB, Ioannidis JP, Kavvoura FK, Khoury MJ, Tanzi RE, Bertram L: Systematic meta-analyses and field synopsis of genetic association studies in schizophrenia: the SzGene database. Nat Genet 2008, 40: 827–834. 10.1038/ng.171View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Dong LM, Potter JD, White E, Ulrich CM, Cardon LR, Peters U: Genetic susceptibility to cancer: the role of polymorphisms in candidate genes. JAMA 2008, 299: 2423–2436. 10.1001/jama.299.20.2423PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Yesupriya A, Yu W, Clyne M, Gwinn M, Khoury MJ: The continued need to synthesize the results of genetic associations across multiple studies. Genet Med 2008, 10(8):633–5.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Perez-Iratxeta C, Wjst M, Bork P, Andrade MA: G2D A Tool for Mining Genes Associated to Disease. BMC Genetics 2005, 6: 45. 10.1186/1471-2156-6-45PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=omim]
- Rebhan M, Chalifa-Caspi V, Prilusky J, Lancet D: GeneCards:A novel functional genomics compendium with automated data mining and query reformulation support. Bioinformatics 1998, 14: 656–664. 10.1093/bioinformatics/14.8.656View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Manolio TA, Brooks LD, Collins FS: A HapMap harvest of insights into the genetics of common disease. J Clin Invest 2008, 118: 1590–1605. 10.1172/JCI34772PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- A Catalog of Published Genome-Wide Association Studies[http://www.genome.gov/26525384]
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.