Background: The binding of peptide fragments of antigens to class II MHC is a crucial step in initiating a helper T cell immune response. The identification of such peptide epitopes has potential applications in vaccine design and in better understanding autoimmune diseases and allergies. However, comprehensive experimental determination of peptide-MHC binding affinities is infeasible due to MHC diversity and the large number of possible peptide sequences. Computational methods trained on the limited experimental binding data can address this challenge. We present the MultiRTA method, an extension of our previous single-type RTA prediction method, which allows the prediction of peptide binding affinities for multiple MHC allotypes not used to train the model. Thus predictions can be made for many MHC allotypes for which experimental binding data is unavailable. Results: We fit MultiRTA models for both HLA-DR and HLA-DP using large experimental binding data sets. The performance in predicting binding affinities for novel MHC allotypes, not in the training set, was tested in two different ways. First, we performed leave-one-allele-out cross-validation, in which predictions are made for one allotype using a model fit to binding data for the remaining MHC allotypes. Comparison of the HLA-DR results with those of two other prediction methods applied to the same data sets showed that MultiRTA achieved performance comparable to NetMHCIIpan and better than the earlier TEPITOPE method. We also directly tested model transferability by making predictions for a set of experimentally characterized peptides binding to six MHC allotypes not included in the training set. In addition, we determined the applicability of prediction methods like MultiRTA to other MHC allotypes by examining the degree of MHC variation accounted for in the training set. An examination of predictions for the promiscuous binding CLIP peptide revealed variations in binding affinity among alleles as well as potentially distinct binding registers for HLA-DR and HLA-DP. Finally, we analyzed the optimal MultiRTA parameters to discover the most important peptide residues for promiscuous and allele-specific binding to HLA-DR and HLA-DP allotypes. Conclusions: The MultiRTA method yields competitive performance but with a significantly simpler and physically interpretable model compared with previous prediction methods. A MultiRTA prediction webserver is available at http://bordnerlab.org/MultiRTA.
BMC Bioinformatics 2010,11:482
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