Missing value imputation for gene expression data by tailored nearest neighbors

Shahla Faisal, Gerhard Tutz
Statistical Applications in Genetics and Molecular Biology 2017 April 25, 16 (2): 95-106
High dimensional data like gene expression and RNA-sequences often contain missing values. The subsequent analysis and results based on these incomplete data can suffer strongly from the presence of these missing values. Several approaches to imputation of missing values in gene expression data have been developed but the task is difficult due to the high dimensionality (number of genes) of the data. Here an imputation procedure is proposed that uses weighted nearest neighbors. Instead of using nearest neighbors defined by a distance that includes all genes the distance is computed for genes that are apt to contribute to the accuracy of imputed values. The method aims at avoiding the curse of dimensionality, which typically occurs if local methods as nearest neighbors are applied in high dimensional settings. The proposed weighted nearest neighbors algorithm is compared to existing missing value imputation techniques like mean imputation, KNNimpute and the recently proposed imputation by random forests. We use RNA-sequence and microarray data from studies on human cancer to compare the performance of the methods. The results from simulations as well as real studies show that the weighted distance procedure can successfully handle missing values for high dimensional data structures where the number of predictors is larger than the number of samples. The method typically outperforms the considered competitors.

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