Gene Regulation refers to the process by which a cell controls the expression of its genes, determining when and to what extent specific genes are activated or repressed. This regulation is crucial for maintaining cellular functions, responding to environmental changes, and ensuring proper development and functioning of an organism. Understanding the mechanisms of gene regulation is fundamental to unraveling the complexities of cellular function, development, and disease, and it plays a central role in various fields, including molecular biology, genetics, and medicine.


DECODE: A Deep-learning Framework for Condensing Enhancers and Refining Boundaries with Large-scale Functional Assays

MotivationMapping distal regulatory elements, such as enhancers, is a cornerstone for elucidating how genetic variations may influence diseases. Previous enhancer-prediction methods have used either unsupervised approaches or supervised methods with limited training data. Moreover, past approaches have implemented enhancer discovery as a binary classification problem without accurate boundary detection, producing low-resolution annotations with superfluous regions and reducing the statistical power for downstream analyses (e.g. causal variant mapping and functional validations). Here, we addressed these challenges via a two-step model called Deep-learning framework for Condensing enhancers and refining boundaries with large-scale functional assays (DECODE). First, we employed direct enhancer-activity readouts from novel functional characterization assays, such as STARR-seq, to train a deep neural network for accurate cell-type-specific enhancer prediction. Second, to improve the annotation resolution, we implemented a weakly supervised object detection framework for enhancer localization with precise boundary detection (to a 10 bp resolution) using Gradient-weighted Class Activation Mapping.ResultsOur DECODE binary classifier outperformed a state-of-the-art enhancer prediction method by 24% in transgenic mouse validation. Furthermore, the object detection framework can condense enhancer annotations to only 13% of their original size, and these compact annotations have significantly higher conservation scores and genome-wide association study variant enrichments than the original predictions. Overall, DECODE is an effective tool for enhancer classification and precise localization.