A graph theoretical approach for predicting common RNA secondary structure motifs including pseudoknots in unaligned sequences

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Abstract

Motivation

RNA structure motifs contained in mRNAs have been found to play important roles in regulating gene expression. However, identification of novel RNA regulatory motifs using computational methods has not been widely explored. Effective tools for predicting novel RNA regulatory motifs based on genomic sequences are needed.

Results

We present a new method for predicting common RNA secondary structure motifs in a set of functionally or evolutionarily related RNA sequences. This method is based on comparison of stems (palindromic helices) between sequences and is implemented by applying graph-theoretical approaches. It first finds all possible stable stems in each sequence and compares stems pairwise between sequences by some defined features to find stems conserved across any two sequences. Then by applying a maximum clique finding algorithm, it finds all significant stems conserved across at least k sequences. Finally, it assembles in topological order all possible compatible conserved stems shared by at least k sequences and reports a number of the best assembled stem sets as the best candidate common structure motifs. This method does not require prior structural alignment of the sequences and is able to detect pseudoknot structures. We have tested this approach on some RNA sequences with known secondary structures, in which it is capable of detecting the real structures completely or partially correctly and outperforms other existing programs for similar purposes.

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