Integrating thermodynamic and sequence contexts improves protein-RNA binding prediction

Yufeng Su, Yunan Luo, Xiaoming Zhao, Yang Liu, Jian Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predicting RNA-binding protein (RBP) specificity is important for understanding gene expression regulation and RNA-mediated enzymatic processes. It is widely believed that RBP binding specificity is determined by both the sequence and structural contexts of RNAs. Existing approaches, including traditional machine learning algorithms and more recently, deep learning models, have been extensively applied to integrate RNA sequence and its predicted or experimental RNA structural probabilities for improving the accuracy of RBP binding prediction. Such models were trained mostly on the large-scale in vitro datasets, such as the RNAcompete dataset. However, in RNAcompete, most synthetic RNAs are unstructured, which makes machine learning methods not effectively extract RBP-binding structural preferences. Furthermore, RNA structure may be variable or multi-modal according to both theoretical and experimental evidence. In this work, we propose Thermo- Net, a thermodynamic prediction model by integrating a new sequence-embedding convolutional neural network model over a thermodynamic ensemble of RNA secondary structures. First, the sequence-embedding convolutional neural network generalizes the existing k-mer based methods by jointly learning convolutional filters and k-mer embeddings to represent RNA sequence contexts. Second, the thermodynamic average of deep-learning predictions is able to explore structural variability and improves the prediction, especially for the structured RNAs. Extensive experiments demonstrate that our method significantly outperforms existing approaches, including RCK, DeepBind and several other recent state-of-the-art methods for predictions on both in vitro and in vivo data. The implementation of ThermoNet is available at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007283
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Integrating thermodynamic and sequence contexts improves protein-RNA binding prediction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this