The typical result of a microarray experiment is a list of tens or hundreds of genes found to be differentially regulated in the condition under study. Independent of the methods used to select these genes, the common task faced by any researcher is to translate these lists of genes into a better understanding of the biological phenomena involved. Currently, this is done through a tedious combination of searches through the literature and a number of public databases. We developed Onto-Express (OE) as a novel tool able to automatically translate such lists of differentially regulated genes into functional profiles characterizing the impact of the condition studied. OE constructs functional profiles (using Gene Ontology terms) for the following categories: biochemical function, biological process, cellular role, cellular component, molecular function, and chromosome location. Statistical significance values are calculated for each category. We demonstrate the validity and the utility of this comprehensive global analysis of gene function by analyzing two breast cancer datasets from two separate laboratories. OE was able to identify correctly all biological processes postulated by the original authors, as well as discover novel relevant mechanisms.
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