Prediction of DNA i-motifs via machine learning.

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i-Motifs (iMs), are secondary structures formed in cytosine-rich DNA sequences and are involved in multiple functions in the genome. Although putative iM forming sequences are widely distributed in the human genome, the folding status and strength of putative iMs vary dramatically. Much previous research on iM has focused on assessing the iM folding properties using biophysical experiments. However, there are no dedicated computational tools for predicting the folding status and strength of iM structures. Here, we introduce a machine learning pipeline, iM-Seeker, to predict both folding status and structural stability of DNA iMs. The programme iM-Seeker incorporates a Balanced Random Forest classifier trained on genome-wide iMab antibody-based CUT&Tag sequencing data to predict the folding status and an Extreme Gradient Boosting regressor to estimate the folding strength according to both literature biophysical data and our in-house biophysical experiments. iM-Seeker predicts DNA iM folding status with a classification accuracy of 81% and estimates the folding strength with coefficient of determination (R2) of 0.642 on the test set. Model interpretation confirms that the nucleotide composition of the C-rich sequence significantly affects iM stability, with a positive correlation with sequences containing cytosine and thymine and a negative correlation with guanine and adenine.