Background: The study of gene essentiality, which measures the importance of a gene for cell division and survival, is used for the identification of cancer drug targets and understanding of tissue-specific manifestation of genetic conditions. In this work, we analyze essentiality and gene expression data from over 900 cancer lines from the DepMap project to create predictive models of gene essentiality. Methods: We developed machine learning algorithms to identify those genes whose essentiality levels are explained by the expression of a small set of “modifier genes”. To identify these gene sets, we developed an ensemble of statistical tests capturing linear and non-linear dependencies. We trained several regression models predicting the essentiality of each target gene, and used an automated model selection procedure to identify the optimal model and hyperparameters. Overall, we examined linear models, gradient boosted trees, Gaussian process regression models, and deep learning networks. Results: We identified nearly 3000 genes for which we accurately predict essentiality using gene expression data of a small set of modifier genes. We show that both in the number of genes we successfully make predictions for, as well as in the prediction accuracy, our model outperforms current state-of-the-art works. Conclusions: Our modeling framework avoids overfitting by identifying the small set of modifier genes, which are of clinical and genetic importance, and ignores the expression of noisy and irrelevant genes. Doing so improves the accuracy of essentiality prediction in various conditions and provides interpretable models. Overall, we present an accurate computational approach, as well as interpretable modeling of essentiality in a wide range of cellular conditions, thus contributing to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that govern tissue-specific effects of genetic disease and cancer.
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© 2023, The Author(s).
- Computational biology
- Gene essentiality
- Machine learning