Background: Genome-wide transcriptome profiling generated by microarray and RNA-Seq often provides deregulated genes or pathways applicable only to larger cohort. On the other hand, individualized interpretation of transcriptomes is increasely pursued to improve diagnosis, prognosis, and patient treatment processes. Yet, robust and accurate methods based on a single paired-sample remain an unmet challenge. Methods.N-of-1-pathways translates gene expression data profiles into mechanism-level profiles on single pairs of samples (one p-value per geneset). It relies on three principles: i) statistical universe is a single paired sample, which serves as its own control; ii) statistics can be derived from multiple gene expression measures that share common biological mechanisms assimilated to genesets; iii) semantic similarity metric takes into account inter-mechanisms' relationships to better assess commonality and differences, within and cross study-samples (e.g. patients, cell-lines, tissues, etc.), which helps the interpretation of the underpinning biology. Results: In the context of underpowered experiments, N-of-1-pathways predictions perform better or comparable to those of GSEA and Differentially Expressed Genes enrichment (DEG enrichment), within-and cross-datasets. N-of-1-pathways uncovered concordant PTBP1-dependent mechanisms across datasets (Odds-Ratios≥13, p-values≤1 × 10-5), such as RNA splicing and cell cycle. In addition, it unveils tissue-specific mechanisms of alternatively transcribed PTBP1-dependent genesets. Furthermore, we demonstrate that GSEA and DEG Enrichment preclude accurate analysis on single paired samples. Conclusions: N-of-1-pathways enables robust and biologically relevant mechanism-level classifiers with small cohorts and one single paired samples that surpasses conventional methods. Further, it identifies unique sample/ patient mechanisms, a requirement for precision medicine.
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