Motivation: Position-specific probability matrices (PPMs, also called position-specific weight matrices) have been the dominating model for transcription factor (TF)-binding motifs in DNA. There is, however, increasing recent evidence of better performance of higher order models such as Markov models of order one, also called adjacent dinucleotide matrices (ADMs). ADMs can model dependencies between adjacent nucleotides, unlike PPMs. A modeling technique and software tool that would estimate such models simultaneously both for monomers and their dimers have been missing.
Results: We present an ADM-based mixture model for monomeric and dimeric TF-binding motifs and an expectation maximization algorithm MODER2 for learning such models from training data and seeds. The model is a mixture that includes monomers and dimers, built from the monomers, with a description of the dimeric structure (spacing, orientation). The technique is modular, meaning that the co-operative effect of dimerization is made explicit by evaluating the difference between expected and observed models. The model is validated using HT-SELEX and generated datasets, and by comparing to some earlier PPM and ADM techniques. The ADM models explain data slightly better than PPM models for 314 tested TFs (or their DNA-binding domains) from four families (bHLH, bZIP, ETS and Homeodomain), the ADM mixture models by MODER2 being the best on average.
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