Epigenome-based Splicing Prediction using a Recurrent Neural Network

Donghoon Lee, Jing Zhang, Jason Liu and Mark B Gerstein.
PLoS Computational Biology. 2020 June 25; 
Alternative RNA splicing provides an important means to expand metazoan transcriptome diversity. Contrary to what was accepted previously, splicing is now thought to predominantly take place during transcription. Motivated by emerging data showing the physical proximity of the spliceosome to Pol II, we surveyed the effect of epigenetic context on co-transcriptional splicing. In particular, we observed that splicing factors were not necessarily enriched at exon junctions and that most epigenetic signatures had a distinctly asymmetric profile around known splice sites. Given this, we tried to build an interpretable model that mimics the physical layout of splicing regulation where the chromatin context progressively changes as the Pol II moves along the guide DNA. We used a recurrent-neural-network architecture to predict the inclusion of a spliced exon based on adjacent epigenetic signals, and we showed that distinct spatio-temporal features of these signals were key determinants of model outcome, in addition to the actual nucleotide sequence of the guide DNA strand. After the model had been trained and tested (with >80% precision-recall curve metric), we explored the derived weights of the latent factors, finding they highlight the importance of the asymmetric time-direction of chromatin context during transcription.