Messina: A Novel Analysis Tool to Identify Biologically Relevant Molecules in Disease

Background

Morphologically similar cancers display heterogeneous patterns of molecular aberrations and follow substantially different clinical courses. This diversity has become the basis for the definition of molecular phenotypes, with significant implications for therapy. Microarray or proteomic expression profiling is conventionally employed to identify disease-associated genes, however, traditional approaches for the analysis of profiling experiments may miss molecular aberrations which define biologically relevant subtypes.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Here we present Messina, a method that can identify those genes that only sometimes show aberrant expression in cancer. We demonstrate with simulated data that Messina is highly sensitive and specific when used to identify genes which are aberrantly expressed in only a proportion of cancers, and compare Messina to contemporary analysis techniques. We illustrate Messina by using it to detect the aberrant expression of a gene that may play an important role in pancreatic cancer.

Conclusions/Significance

Messina allows the detection of genes with profiles typical of markers of molecular subtype, and complements existing methods to assist the identification of such markers. Messina is applicable to any global expression profiling data, and to allow its easy application has been packaged into a freely-available stand-alone software package.