Identifying Significant Metabolic Pathways Using Multi-Block Partial Least-Squares Analysis

Lingli Deng, Fanjing Guo, Kian Kai Cheng, Jiangjiang Zhu, Haiwei Gu, Daniel Raftery, Jiyang Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In metabolomics, identification of metabolic pathways altered by disease, genetics, or environmental perturbations is crucial to uncover the underlying biological mechanisms. A number of pathway analysis methods are currently available, which are generally based on equal-probability, topological-centrality, or model-separability methods. In brief, prior identification of significant metabolites is needed for the first two types of methods, while each pathway is modeled separately in the model-separability-based methods. In these methods, interactions between metabolic pathways are not taken into consideration. The current study aims to develop a novel metabolic pathway identification method based on multi-block partial least squares (MB-PLS) analysis by including all pathways into a global model to facilitate biological interpretation. The detected metabolites are first assigned to pathway blocks based on their roles in metabolism as defined by the KEGG pathway database. The metabolite intensity or concentration data matrix is then reconstructed as data blocks according to the metabolite subsets. Then, a MB-PLS model is built on these data blocks. A new metric, named the pathway importance in projection (PIP), is proposed for evaluation of the significance of each metabolic pathway for group separation. A simulated dataset was generated by imposing artificial perturbation on four pre-defined pathways of the healthy control group of a colorectal cancer study. Performance of the proposed method was evaluated and compared with seven other commonly used methods using both an actual metabolomics dataset and the simulated dataset. For the real metabolomics dataset, most of the significant pathways identified by the proposed method were found to be consistent with the published literature. For the simulated dataset, the significant pathways identified by the proposed method are highly consistent with the pre-defined pathways. The experimental results demonstrate that the proposed method is effective for identification of significant metabolic pathways, which may facilitate biological interpretation of metabolomics data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1965-1974
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Proteome Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • multi-block partial least-squares analysis (MB-PLS)
  • pathway importance in projection (PIP)
  • significant metabolic pathway
  • simulated pathway analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry(all)


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