Testing gene set enrichment for subset of genes: Sub-GSE.


In this paper, we develop a novel method, termed Sub-GSE, which measures the enrichment of a predefined gene set, or pathway, by testing its subsets. The application of Sub-GSE to two simulated and two real datasets shows Sub-GSE to be more sensitive than previous methods, such as GSEA, GSA, and SigPath, in detecting gene sets assiated with a phenotype of interest. This is particularly true for cases in which only a fraction of the genes in the gene set are associated with the phenotypes. Furthermore, the application of Sub-GSE to two real data sets demonstrates that it can detect more biologically meaningful gene sets than GSEA.

We developed a new method to measure the gene set enrichment. Applications to two simulated datasets and two real datasets show that this method is sensitive to the associations between gene sets and phenotype. The program Sub-GSE can be downloaded from

Many methods have been developed to test the enrichment of genes related to certain phenotypes or cell states in gene sets. These approaches usually combine gene expression data with functionally related gene sets as defined in databases such as GeneOntology (GO), KEGG, or BioCarta. The results based on gene set analysis are generally more biologically interpretable, accurate and robust than the results based on individual gene analysis. However, while most available methods for gene set enrichment analysis test the enrichment of the entire gene set, it is more likely that only a subset of the genes in the gene set may be related to the phenotypes of interest.

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