Intrinsically Bayesian robust classifier for single-cell gene expression trajectories in gene regulatory networks.
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BACKGROUND: Expression-based phenotype classification using either microarray or RNA-Seq measurements suffers from a lack of specificity because pathway timing is not revealed and expressions are averaged across groups of cells. This paper studies expression-based classification under the assumption that single-cell measurements are sampled at a sufficient rate to detect regulatory timing. Thus, observations are expression trajectories. In effect, classification is performed on data generated by an underlying gene regulatory network. RESULTS: Network regulation is modeled via a Boolean network with perturbation, regulation not fully determined owing to inherent biological randomness. The binary assumption is not critical because the resulting Markov chain characterizes expression trajectories. We assume a partially known Gaussian observation model belonging to an uncertainty class of models. We derive the intrinsically Bayesian robust classifier to discriminate between wild-type and mutated networks based on expression trajectories. The classifier minimizes the expected error across the uncertainty class relative to the prior distribution. We test it using a mammalian cell-cycle model, discriminating between the normal network and one in which gene p27 is mutated, thereby producing a cancerous phenotype. Tests examine all model aspects, including trajectory length, perturbation probability, and the hyperparameters governing the prior distribution over the uncertainty class. CONCLUSIONS: Simulations show the rates at which the expected error is diminished by smaller perturbation probability, longer trajectories, and hyperparameters that tighten the prior distribution relative to the unknown true network. For average-expression measurement, methods have been proposed to obtain prior distributions. These should be extended to the more mathematically difficult, but more informative, expression trajectories.