Optimal dimensionality selection for independent component analysis of transcriptomic data

John Luke McConn, Cameron R. Lamoureux, Saugat Poudel, Bernhard O. Palsson, Anand V. Sastry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Independent component analysis is an unsupervised machine learning algorithm that separates a set of mixed signals into a set of statistically independent source signals. Applied to high-quality gene expression datasets, independent component analysis effectively reveals both the source signals of the transcriptome as co-regulated gene sets, and the activity levels of the underlying regulators across diverse experimental conditions. Two major variables that affect the final gene sets are the diversity of the expression profiles contained in the underlying data, and the user-defined number of independent components, or dimensionality, to compute. Availability of high-quality transcriptomic datasets has grown exponentially as high-throughput technologies have advanced; however, optimal dimensionality selection remains an open question. Methods: We computed independent components across a range of dimensionalities for four gene expression datasets with varying dimensions (both in terms of number of genes and number of samples). We computed the correlation between independent components across different dimensionalities to understand how the overall structure evolves as the number of user-defined components increases. We then measured how well the resulting gene clusters reflected known regulatory mechanisms, and developed a set of metrics to assess the accuracy of the decomposition at a given dimension. Results: We found that over-decomposition results in many independent components dominated by a single gene, whereas under-decomposition results in independent components that poorly capture the known regulatory structure. From these results, we developed a new method, called OptICA, for finding the optimal dimensionality that controls for both over- and under-decomposition. Specifically, OptICA selects the highest dimension that produces a low number of components that are dominated by a single gene. We show that OptICA outperforms two previously proposed methods for selecting the number of independent components across four transcriptomic databases of varying sizes. Conclusions: OptICA avoids both over-decomposition and under-decomposition of transcriptomic datasets resulting in the best representation of the organism’s underlying transcriptional regulatory network.

Original languageEnglish
Article number584
Pages (from-to)584
JournalBMC Bioinformatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Other keywords

  • Algorithms
  • Databases, Factual
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Transcriptome


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