Predicting protein function via downward random walks on a gene ontology

Guoxian Yu*, Hailong ZHU, Carlotta Domeniconi, Jiming LIU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Background: High-throughput bio-techniques accumulate ever-increasing amount of genomic and proteomic data. These data are far from being functionally characterized, despite the advances in gene (or gene's product proteins) functional annotations. Due to experimental techniques and to the research bias in biology, the regularly updated functional annotation databases, i.e., the Gene Ontology (GO), are far from being complete. Given the importance of protein functions for biological studies and drug design, proteins should be more comprehensively and precisely annotated. Results: We proposed downward Random Walks (dRW) to predict missing (or new) functions of partially annotated proteins. Particularly, we apply downward random walks with restart on the GO directed acyclic graph, along with the available functions of a protein, to estimate the probability of missing functions. To further boost the prediction accuracy, we extend dRW to dRW-kNN. dRW-kNN computes the semantic similarity between proteins based on the functional annotations of proteins; it then predicts functions based on the functions estimated by dRW, together with the functions associated with the k nearest proteins. Our proposed models can predict two kinds of missing functions: (i) the ones that are missing for a protein but associated with other proteins of interest; (ii) the ones that are not available for any protein of interest, but exist in the GO hierarchy. Experimental results on the proteins of Yeast and Human show that dRW and dRW-kNN can replenish functions more accurately than other related approaches, especially for sparse functions associated with no more than 10 proteins. Conclusion: The empirical study shows that the semantic similarity between GO terms and the ontology hierarchy play important roles in predicting protein function. The proposed dRW and dRW-kNN can serve as tools for replenishing functions of partially annotated proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Article number271
JournalBMC Bioinformatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics

User-Defined Keywords

  • Downward random walk
  • Function prediction
  • Gene ontology
  • Partially annotated proteins


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