BACKGROUND: Over the last decade, metabolomics has evolved into a mainstream enterprise utilized by many laboratories globally. Like other "omics" data, metabolomics data has the characteristics of a smaller sample size compared to the number of features evaluated. Thus the selection of an optimal subset of features with a supervised classifier is imperative. We extended an existing feature selection algorithm, threshold gradient descent regularization (TGDR), to handle multi-class classification of "omics" data, and proposed two such extensions referred to as multi-TGDR. Both multi-TGDR frameworks were used to analyze a metabolomics dataset that compares the metabolic profiles of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) infected with hepatitis B (HBV) or C virus (HCV) with that of cirrhosis induced by HBV/HCV infection; the goal was to improve early-stage diagnosis of HCC.

RESULTS: We applied two multi-TGDR frameworks to the HCC metabolomics data that determined TGDR thresholds either globally across classes, or locally for each class. Multi-TGDR global model selected 45 metabolites with a 0% misclassification rate (the error rate on the training data) and had a 3.82% 5-fold cross-validation (CV-5) predictive error rate. Multi-TGDR local selected 48 metabolites with a 0% misclassification rate and a 5.34% CV-5 error rate.

CONCLUSIONS: One important advantage of multi-TGDR local is that it allows inference for determining which feature is related specifically to the class/classes. Thus, we recommend multi-TGDR local be used because it has similar predictive performance and requires the same computing time as multi-TGDR global, but may provide class-specific inference.

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Published in BMC Bioinformatics, v. 15, no. 97, p. 1-11.

© 2014 Tian et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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