Background: Development of high-throughput methods for measuring DNA interactions of transcription factors together with computational advances in short motif inference algorithms is expanding our understanding of transcription factor binding site motifs. The consequential growth of sequence motif data sets makes it important to systematically group and categorise regulatory motifs. It has been shown that there are familial tendencies in DNA sequence motifs that are predictive of the family of factors that binds them. Further development of methods that detect and describe familial motif trends has the potential to help in measuring the similarity of novel computational motif predictions to previously known data and sensitively detecting regulatory motifs similar to previously known ones from novel sequence. Results: We propose a probabilistic model for position weight matrix (PWM) sequence motif families. The model, which we call the 'metamotif' describes recurring familial patterns in a set of motifs. The metamotif framework models variation within a family of sequence motifs. It allows for simultaneous estimation of a series of independent metamotifs from input position weight matrix (PWM) motif data and does not assume that all input motif columns contribute to a familial pattern. We describe an algorithm for inferring metamotifs from weight matrix data. We then demonstrate the use of the model in two practical tasks: in the Bayesian NestedMICA model inference algorithm as a PWM prior to enhance motif inference sensitivity, and in a motif classification task where motifs are labelled according to their interacting DNA binding domain. Conclusions: We show that metamotifs can be used as PWM priors in the NestedMICA motif inference algorithm to dramatically increase the sensitivity to infer motifs. Metamotifs were also successfully applied to a motif classification problem where sequence motif features were used to predict the family of protein DNA binding domains that would interact with it. The metamotif based classifier is shown to compare favourably to previous related methods. The metamotif has great potential for further use in machine learning tasks related to especially de novo computational sequence motif inference. The metamotif methods presented have been incorporated into the NestedMICA suite.
Piipari, M., Down, T. A., & Hubbard, T. J. P. (2010). Metamotifs - A generative model for building families of nucleotide position weight matrices. BMC Bioinformatics, 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2105-11-348