Background: Various statistical and machine learning methods have been successfully applied to the classification of DNA microarray data. Simple instance-based classifiers such as nearest neighbor (NN) approaches perform remarkably well in comparison to more complex models, and are currently experiencing a renaissance in the analysis of data sets from biology and biotechnology. While binary classification of microarray data has been extensively investigated, studies involving multiclass data are rare. The question remains open whether there exists a significant difference in performance between NN approaches and more complex multiclass methods. Comparative studies in this field commonly assess different models based on their classification accuracy only; however, this approach lacks the rigor needed to draw reliable conclusions and is inadequate for testing the null hypothesis of equal performance. Comparing novel classification models to existing approaches requires focusing on the significance of differences in performance. Results: We investigated the performance of instance-based classifiers, including a NN classifier able to assign a degree of class membership to each sample. This model alleviates a major problem of conventional instance-based learners, namely the lack of confidence values for predictions. The model translates the distances to the nearest neighbors into 'confidence scores'; the higher the confidence score, the closer is the considered instance to a predefined class. We applied the models to three real gene expression data sets and compared them with state-of-the-art methods for classifying microarray data of multiple classes, assessing performance using a statistical significance test that took into account the data resampling strategy. Simple NN classifiers performed as well as, or significantly better than, their more intricate competitors. Conclusion: Given its highly intuitive underlying principles - simplicity, ease-of-use, and robustness - the k-NN classifier complemented by a suitable distance-weighting regime constitutes an excellent alternative to more complex models for multiclass microarray data sets. Instance-based classifiers using weighted distances are not limited to microarray data sets, but are likely to perform competitively in classifications of high-dimensional biological data sets such as those generated by high-throughput mass spectrometry.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Structural Biology
- Molecular Biology
- Computer Science Applications
- Applied Mathematics