Position-specific priors have been shown to be a flexible and elegant way to extend the power of Gibbs sampler-based motif discovery algorithms. Information of many types–including sequence conservation, nucleosome positioning, and negative examples–can be converted into a prior over the location of motif sites, which then guides the sequence motif discovery algorithm. This approach has been shown to confer many of the benefits of conservation-based and discriminative motif discovery approaches on Gibbs sampler-based motif discovery methods, but has not previously been studied with methods based on expectation maximization (EM).
We extend the popular EM-based MEME algorithm to utilize position-specific priors and demonstrate their effectiveness for discovering transcription factor (TF) motifs in yeast and mouse DNA sequences. Utilizing a discriminative, conservation-based prior dramatically improves MEME's ability to discover motifs in 156 yeast TF ChIP-chip datasets, more than doubling the number of datasets where it finds the correct motif. On these datasets, MEME using the prior has a higher success rate than eight other conservation-based motif discovery approaches. We also show that the same type of prior improves the accuracy of motifs discovered by MEME in mouse TF ChIP-seq data, and that the motifs tend to be of slightly higher quality those found by a Gibbs sampling algorithm using the same prior.
We conclude that using position-specific priors can substantially increase the power of EM-based motif discovery algorithms such as MEME algorithm.