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MEIRLOP: improving score-based motif enrichment by incorporating sequence bias covariates.



Motif enrichment analysis (MEA) identifies over-represented transcription factor binding (TF) motifs in the DNA sequence of regulatory regions, enabling researchers to infer which transcription factors can regulate transcriptional response to a stimulus, or identify sequence features found near a target protein in a ChIP-seq experiment. Score-based MEA determines motifs enriched in regions exhibiting extreme differences in regulatory activity, but existing methods do not control for biases in GC content or dinucleotide composition. This lack of control for sequence bias, such as those often found in CpG islands, can obscure the enrichment of biologically relevant motifs.


We developed Motif Enrichment In Ranked Lists of Peaks (MEIRLOP), a novel MEA method that determines enrichment of TF binding motifs in a list of scored regulatory regions, while controlling for sequence bias. In this study, we compare MEIRLOP against other MEA methods in identifying binding motifs found enriched in differentially active regulatory regions after interferon-beta stimulus, finding that using logistic regression and covariates improves the ability to call enrichment of ISGF3 binding motifs from differential acetylation ChIP-seq data compared to other methods. Our method achieves similar or better performance compared to other methods when quantifying the enrichment of TF binding motifs from ENCODE TF ChIP-seq datasets. We also demonstrate how MEIRLOP is broadly applicable to the analysis of numerous types of NGS assays and experimental designs.


Our results demonstrate the importance of controlling for sequence bias when accurately identifying enriched DNA sequence motifs using score-based MEA. MEIRLOP is available for download from under the MIT license.

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