Meta-analytic framework for liquid association

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Although coexpression analysis via pair-wise expression correlation is popularly used to elucidate gene-gene interactions at the whole-genome scale, many complicated multi-gene regulations require more advanced detection methods. Liquid association (LA) is a powerful tool to detect the dynamic correlation of two gene variables depending on the expression level of a third variable (LA scouting gene). LA detection from single transcriptomic study, however, is often unstable and not generalizable due to cohort bias, biological variation and limited sample size. With the rapid development of microarray and NGS technology, LA analysis combining multiple gene expression studies can provide more accurate and stable results.


In this article, we proposed two meta-analytic approaches for LA analysis (MetaLA and MetaMLA) to combine multiple transcriptomic studies. To compensate demanding computing, we also proposed a two-step fast screening algorithm for more efficient genome-wide screening: bootstrap filtering and sign filtering. We applied the methods to five Saccharomyces cerevisiae datasets related to environmental changes. The fast screening algorithm reduced 98% of running time. When compared with single study analysis, MetaLA and MetaMLA provided stronger detection signal and more consistent and stable results. The top triplets are highly enriched in fundamental biological processes related to environmental changes. Our method can help biologists understand underlying regulatory mechanisms under different environmental exposure or disease states.

Availability and Implementation:

A MetaLA R package, data and code for this article are available at


Supplementary information:

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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