BACKGROUND: Network alignment is one of the most common biological network comparison methods. Aligning protein-protein interaction (PPI) networks of different species is of great important to detect evolutionary conserved pathways or protein complexes across species through the identification of conserved interactions, and to improve our insight into biological systems. Global network alignment (GNA) problem is NP-complete, for which only heuristic methods have been proposed so far. Generally, the current GNA methods fall into global heuristic seed-and-extend approaches. These methods can not get the best overall consistent alignment between networks for the opinionated local seed. Furthermore These methods are lost in maximizing the number of aligned edges between two networks without considering the original structures of functional modules. METHODS: We present a novel seed selection strategy for global network alignment by constructing the pairs of hub nodes of networks to be aligned into multiple seeds. Beginning from every hub seed and using the membership similarity of nodes to quantify to what extent the nodes can participate in functional modules associated with current seed topologically we align the networks by modules. By this way we can maintain the functional modules are not damaged during the heuristic alignment process. And our method is efficient in resolving the fatal problem of most conventional algorithms that the initialization selected seeds have a direct influence on the alignment result. The similarity measures between network nodes (e.g., proteins) include sequence similarity, centrality similarity, and dynamic membership similarity and our algorithm can be called Multiple Hubs-based Alignment (MHA). RESULTS: When applying our seed selection strategy to several pairs of real PPI networks, it is observed that our method is working to strike a balance, extending the conserved interactions while maintaining the functional modules unchanged. In the case study, we assess the effectiveness of MHA on the alignment of the yeast and fly PPI networks. Our method outperforms state-of-the-art algorithms at detecting conserved functional modules and retrieves in particular 86% more conserved interactions than IsoRank. CONCLUSIONS: We believe that our seed selection strategy will lead us to obtain more topologically and biologically similar alignment result. And it can be used as the reference and complement of other heuristic methods to seek more meaningful alignment results.
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