Learning Sparse Gaussian Graphical Models with Overlapping Blocks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (NIPS 2016)

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Mohammad Javad Hosseini, Su-In Lee


We present a novel framework, called GRAB (GRaphical models with overlApping Blocks), to capture densely connected components in a network estimate. GRAB takes as input a data matrix of p variables and n samples, and jointly learns both a network among p variables and densely connected groups of variables (called `blocks'). GRAB has four major novelties as compared to existing network estimation methods: 1) It does not require the blocks to be given a priori. 2) Blocks can overlap. 3) It can jointly learn a network structure and overlapping blocks. 4) It solves a joint optimization problem with the block coordinate descent method that is convex in each step. We show that GRAB reveals the underlying network structure substantially better than four state-of-the-art competitors on synthetic data. When applied to cancer gene expression data, GRAB outperforms its competitors in revealing known functional gene sets and potentially novel genes that drive cancer.