Partial least squares regression is an extension of the multiple linear regression model (see, e.g., Multiple Regression or General Regression Models(GRM)). In its simplest form, a linear model specifies the (linear) relationship between a dependent (response) variables Y, and a set of predictor variables, the X's, so that

Y = b0 + b1X1 + b2X2 + ... + bpXp

In this equation b0 is the regression coefficient for the intercept and the bi values are the regression coefficients (for variables 1 through p) computed from the data.

So for example, you could estimate (i.e., predict) a person's weight as a function of the person's height and gender. You could use linear regression to estimate the respective regression coefficients from a sample of data, measuring height, weight, and observing the subjects' gender. For many data analysis problems, estimates of the linear relationships between variables are adequate to describe the observed data, and to make reasonable predictions for new observations (see Multiple Regression or General Regression Models (GRM) for additional details).

The multiple linear regression model has been extended in a number of ways to address more sophisticated data analysis problems. The multiple linear regression model serves as the basis for a number of multivariate methods such as Discriminant Analysis (i.e., the prediction of group membership from the levels of continuous predictor variables), principal components regression (i.e., the prediction of responses on the dependent variables from factors underlying the levels of the predictor variables), and Canonical Correlation (i.e., the prediction of factors underlying responses on the dependent variables from factors underlying the levels of the predictor variables). These multivariate methods all have two important properties in common. These methods impose restrictions such that (1) factors underlying the Y and X variables are extracted from the Y'Y and X'X matrices, respectively, and never from cross-product matrices involving both the Y and X variables, and (2) the number of prediction functions can never exceed the minimum of the number of Y variables and X variables.

Partial least squares regression extends multiple linear regression without imposing the restrictions employed by discriminant analysis, principal components regression, and canonical correlation. In partial least squares regression, prediction functions are represented by factors extracted from the Y'XX'Y matrix. The number of such prediction functions that can be extracted typically will exceed the maximum of the number of Y and X variables.

In short, partial least squares regression is probably the least restrictive of the various multivariate extensions of the multiple linear regression model. This flexibility allows it to be used in situations where the use of traditional multivariate methods is severely limited, such as when there are fewer observations than predictor variables. Furthermore, partial least squares regression can be used as an exploratory analysis tool to select suitable predictor variables and to identify outliers before classical linear regression.

Partial least squares regression has been used in various disciplines such as chemistry, economics, medicine, psychology, and pharmaceutical science where predictive linear modeling, especially with a large number of predictors, is necessary. Especially in chemometrics, partial least squares regression has become a standard tool for modeling linear relations between multivariate measurements (de Jong, 1993).