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Background: Molecular level of biological data can be constructed into system level of data as biological networks. Network motifs are defined as over- represented small connected subgraphs in networks and they have been used for many biological applications. Since network motif discovery involves computationally challenging processes, previous algorithms have focused on computational efficiency. However, we believe that the biological quality of network motifs is also very important.

Results: We define biological network motifs as biologically significant subgraphs and traditional network motifs are differentiated as structural network motifs in this paper. We develop five algorithms, namely, EDGEGO-BNM, EDGEBETWEENNESS-BNM, NMF-BNM, NMFGO-BNM and VOLTAGE-BNM, for efficient detection of biological network motifs, and introduce several evaluation measures including motifs included in complex, motifs included in functional module and GO term clustering score in this paper. Experimental results show that EDGEGO-BNM and EDGEBETWEENNESS-BNM perform better than existing algorithms and all of our algorithms are applicable to find structural network motifs as well.

Conclusion: We provide new approaches to finding network motifs in biological networks. Our algorithms efficiently detect biological network motifs and further improve existing algorithms to find high quality structural network motifs, which would be impossible using existing algorithms. The performances of the algorithms are compared based on our new evaluation measures in biological contexts. We believe that our work gives some guidelines of network motifs research for the biological networks.


This article was originally published in the journal BMC Systems Biology.

© 2012 Kim et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.