Estimating graphical models for count data with applications to single-cell gene network

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Feiyi Xiao, Junjie Tang, Huaying Fang, Ruibin Xi


Graphical models such as Gaussian graphical models have been widely applied for direct interaction inference in many different areas. In many modern applications, such as single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) studies, the observed data are counts and often contain many small counts. Traditional graphical models for continuous data are inappropriate for network inference of count data. We consider the Poisson log-normal (PLN) graphical model for count data and the precision matrix of the latent normal distribution represents the network. We propose a two-step method PLNet to estimate the precision matrix. PLNet first estimates the latent covariance matrix using the maximum marginal likelihood estimator (MMLE) and then estimates the precision matrix by minimizing the lasso-penalized D-trace loss function. We establish the convergence rate of the MMLE of the covariance matrix and further establish the convergence rate and the sign consistency of the proposed PLNet estimator of the precision matrix in the high dimensional setting. Importantly, although the PLN model is not sub-Gaussian, we show that the PLNet estimator is consistent even if the model dimension goes to infinity exponentially as the sample size increases. The performance of PLNet is evaluated and compared with available methods using simulation and gene regulatory network analysis of real scRNA-seq data.