Noise-injected neural networks show promise for use on small-sample expression data.
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BACKGROUND: Overfitting the data is a salient issue for classifier design in small-sample settings. This is why selecting a classifier from a constrained family of classifiers, ones that do not possess the potential to too finely partition the feature space, is typically preferable. But overfitting is not merely a consequence of the classifier family; it is highly dependent on the classification rule used to design a classifier from the sample data. Thus, it is possible to consider families that are rather complex but for which there are classification rules that perform well for small samples. Such classification rules can be advantageous because they facilitate satisfactory classification when the class-conditional distributions are not easily separated and the sample is not large. Here we consider neural networks, from the perspectives of classical design based solely on the sample data and from noise-injection-based design. RESULTS: This paper provides an extensive simulation-based comparative study of noise-injected neural-network design. It considers a number of different feature-label models across various small sample sizes using varying amounts of noise injection. Besides comparing noise-injected neural-network design to classical neural-network design, the paper compares it to a number of other classification rules. Our particular interest is with the use of microarray data for expression-based classification for diagnosis and prognosis. To that end, we consider noise-injected neural-network design as it relates to a study of survivability of breast cancer patients. CONCLUSION: The conclusion is that in many instances noise-injected neural network design is superior to the other tested methods, and in almost all cases it does not perform substantially worse than the best of the other methods. Since the amount of noise injected is consequential, the effect of differing amounts of injected noise must be considered.