Computational discovery of DNA methylation patterns as biomarkers of ageing, cancer, and mental disorders : Algorithms and Tools

Abstract: Epigenetics refers to the mitotically heritable modifications in gene expression without a change in the genetic code. A combination of molecular, chemical and environmental factors constituting the epigenome is involved, together with the genome, in setting up the unique functionality of each cell type.DNA methylation is the most studied epigenetic mark in mammals, where a methyl group is added to the cytosine in a cytosine-phosphate-guanine dinucleotides or a CpG site. It has been shown to have a major role in various biological phenomena such as chromosome X inactivation, regulation of gene expression, cell differentiation, genomic imprinting. Furthermore, aberrant patterns of DNA methylation have been observed in various diseases including cancer.In this thesis, we have utilized machine learning methods and developed new methods and tools to analyze DNA methylation patterns as a biomarker of ageing, cancer subtyping and mental disorders.In Paper I, we introduced a pipeline of Monte Carlo Feature Selection and rule-base modeling using ROSETTA in order to identify combinations of CpG sites that classify samples in different age intervals based on the DNA methylation levels. The combination of genes that showed up to be acting together, motivated us to develop an interactive pathway browser, named PiiL, to check the methylation status of multiple genes in a pathway. The tool enhances detecting differential patterns of DNA methylation and/or gene expression by quickly assessing large data sets.In Paper III, we developed a novel unsupervised clustering method, methylSaguaro, for analyzing various types of cancers, to detect cancer subtypes based on their DNA methylation patterns. Using this method we confirmed the previously reported findings that challenge the histological grouping of the patients, and proposed new subtypes based on DNA methylation patterns. In Paper IV, we investigated the DNA methylation patterns in a cohort of schizophrenic and healthy samples, using all the methods that were introduced and developed in the first three papers.