Mining gene expression databases for association rules.


Global gene expression profiling, both at the transcript level and at the protein level, can be a valuable tool in the understanding of genes, biological networks, and cellular states. As larger and larger gene expression data sets become available, data mining techniques can be applied to identify patterns of interest in the data. Association rules, used widely in the area of market basket analysis, can be applied to the analysis of expression data as well. Association rules can reveal biologically relevant associations between different genes or between environmental effects and gene expression. An association rule has the form LHS --> RHS, where LHS and RHS are disjoint sets of items, the RHS set being likely to occur whenever the LHS set occurs. Items in gene expression data can include genes that are highly expressed or repressed, as well as relevant facts describing the cellular environment of the genes (e.g. the diagnosis of a tumor sample from which a profile was obtained).

We demonstrate an algorithm for efficiently mining association rules from gene expression data, using the data set from Hughes et al. (2000, Cell, 102, 109-126) of 300 expression profiles for yeast. Using the algorithm, we find numerous rules in the data. A cursory analysis of some of these rules reveals numerous associations between certain genes, many of which make sense biologically, others suggesting new hypotheses that may warrant further investigation. In a data set derived from the yeast data set, but with the expression values for each transcript randomly shifted with respect to the experiments, no rules were found, indicating that most all of the rules mined from the actual data set are not likely to have occurred by chance.

An implementation of the algorithm using Microsoft SQL Server with Access 2000 is available at Our results from mining the yeast data set are available at

  • Creighton C
  • Hanash S
PubMed ID
Appears In
Bioinformatics, 2003, 19 (1)