Transforming data from genome-scale assays into knowledge of affected molecular functions and pathways is a key challenge in biomedical research. Using vocabularies of functional terms and databases annotating genes with these terms, pathway enrichment methods can identify terms enriched in a gene list. With data that can refer to intergenic regions, however, one must first connect the regions to the terms, which are usually annotated only to genes. To make these connections, existing pathway enrichment approaches apply unwarranted assumptions such as annotating non-coding regions with the terms from adjacent genes. We developed a computational method that instead links genomic regions to annotations using data on long-range chromatin interactions. Our method, Biological Enrichment of Hidden Sequence Targets (BEHST), finds Gene Ontology (GO) terms enriched in genomic regions more precisely and accurately than existing methods. We demonstrate BEHST's ability to retrieve more pertinent and less ambiguous GO terms associated with results of in vivo mouse enhancer screens or enhancer RNA assays for multiple tissue types. BEHST will accelerate the discovery of affected pathways mediated through long-range interactions that explain non-coding hits in genome-wide association study (GWAS) or genome editing screens. BEHST is free software with a command-line interface for Linux or macOS and a web interface (http://behst.hoffmanlab.org/).
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