Non-coding RNA (ncRNA) are small non-coding sequences involved in gene expression regulation of many biological processes and diseases. The recent discovery of a large set of different ncRNAs with biologically relevant roles has opened the way to develop methods able to discriminate between the different ncRNA classes. Moreover, the lack of knowledge about the complete mechanisms in regulative processes, together with the development of high-throughput technologies, has required the help of bioinformatics tools in addressing biologists and clinicians with a deeper comprehension of the functional roles of ncRNAs. In this work, we introduce a new ncRNA classification tool, nRC (non-coding RNA Classifier). Our approach is based on features extraction from the ncRNA secondary structure together with a supervised classification algorithm implementing a deep learning architecture based on convolutional neural networks.
We tested our approach for the classification of 13 different ncRNA classes. We obtained classification scores, using the most common statistical measures. In particular, we reach an accuracy and sensitivity score of about 74%.
The proposed method outperforms other similar classification methods based on secondary structure features and machine learning algorithms, including the RNAcon tool that, to date, is the reference classifier. nRC tool is freely available as a docker image at https://hub.docker.com/r/tblab/nrc/. The source code of nRC tool is also available at https://github.com/IcarPA-TBlab/nrc.