Derivative-free neural network for optimizing the scoring functions associated with dynamic programming of pairwise-profile alignment

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: A profile-comparison method with position-specific scoring matrix (PSSM) is among the most accurate alignment methods. Currently, cosine similarity and correlation coefficients are used as scoring functions of dynamic programming to calculate similarity between PSSMs. However, it is unclear whether these functions are optimal for profile alignment methods. By definition, these functions cannot capture nonlinear relationships between profiles. Therefore, we attempted to discover a novel scoring function, which was more suitable for the profile-comparison method than existing functions, using neural networks. Results: Although neural networks required derivative-of-cost functions, the problem being addressed in this study lacked them. Therefore, we implemented a novel derivative-free neural network by combining a conventional neural network with an evolutionary strategy optimization method used as a solver. Using this novel neural network system, we optimized the scoring function to align remote sequence pairs. Our results showed that the pairwise-profile aligner using the novel scoring function significantly improved both alignment sensitivity and precision relative to aligners using existing functions. Conclusions: We developed and implemented a novel derivative-free neural network and aligner (Nepal) for optimizing sequence alignments. Nepal improved alignment quality by adapting to remote sequence alignments and increasing the expressiveness of similarity scores. Additionally, this novel scoring function can be realized using a simple matrix operation and easily incorporated into other aligners. Moreover our scoring function could potentially improve the performance of homology detection and/or multiple-sequence alignment of remote homologous sequences. The goal of the study was to provide a novel scoring function for profile alignment method and develop a novel learning system capable of addressing derivative-free problems. Our system is capable of optimizing the performance of other sophisticated methods and solving problems without derivative-of-cost functions, which do not always exist in practical problems. Our results demonstrated the usefulness of this optimization method for derivative-free problems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalAlgorithms for Molecular Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Feb 15


  • Derivative-free optimization
  • Dynamic programming
  • Evolutionary strategy
  • Neural network
  • Profile alignment


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