Exploring combinations of dimensionality reduction, transfer learning, and regularization methods for predicting binary phenotypes with transcriptomic data

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Oshternian SR, Loipfinger S, Bhattacharya A, Fehrmann RSN



Numerous transcriptomic-based models have been developed to predict or understand the fundamental mechanisms driving biological phenotypes. However, few models have successfully transitioned into clinical practice due to challenges associated with generalizability and interpretability. To address these issues, researchers have turned to dimensionality reduction methods and have begun implementing transfer learning approaches.


In this study, we aimed to determine the optimal combination of dimensionality reduction and regularization methods for predictive modeling. We applied seven dimensionality reduction methods to various datasets, including two supervised methods (linear optimal low-rank projection and low-rank canonical correlation analysis), two unsupervised methods [principal component analysis and consensus independent component analysis (c-ICA)], and three methods [autoencoder (AE), adversarial variational autoencoder, and c-ICA] within a transfer learning framework, trained on > 140,000 transcriptomic profiles. To assess the performance of the different combinations, we used a cross-validation setup encapsulated within a permutation testing framework, analyzing 30 different transcriptomic datasets with binary phenotypes. Furthermore, we included datasets with small sample sizes and phenotypes of varying degrees of predictability, and we employed independent datasets for validation.


Our findings revealed that regularized models without dimensionality reduction achieved the highest predictive performance, challenging the necessity of dimensionality reduction when the primary goal is to achieve optimal predictive performance. However, models using AE and c-ICA with transfer learning for dimensionality reduction showed comparable performance, with enhanced interpretability and robustness of predictors, compared to models using non-dimensionality-reduced data.


These findings offer valuable insights into the optimal combination of strategies for enhancing the predictive performance, interpretability, and generalizability of transcriptomic-based models.