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PLoS Comput Biol. Mar 2011; 7(3): e1001099.
Published online Mar 3, 2011. doi:  10.1371/journal.pcbi.1001099
PMCID: PMC3048376

Training Signaling Pathway Maps to Biochemical Data with Constrained Fuzzy Logic: Quantitative Analysis of Liver Cell Responses to Inflammatory Stimuli

Daniel A. Beard, Editor


Predictive understanding of cell signaling network operation based on general prior knowledge but consistent with empirical data in a specific environmental context is a current challenge in computational biology. Recent work has demonstrated that Boolean logic can be used to create context-specific network models by training proteomic pathway maps to dedicated biochemical data; however, the Boolean formalism is restricted to characterizing protein species as either fully active or inactive. To advance beyond this limitation, we propose a novel form of fuzzy logic sufficiently flexible to model quantitative data but also sufficiently simple to efficiently construct models by training pathway maps on dedicated experimental measurements. Our new approach, termed constrained fuzzy logic (cFL), converts a prior knowledge network (obtained from literature or interactome databases) into a computable model that describes graded values of protein activation across multiple pathways. We train a cFL-converted network to experimental data describing hepatocytic protein activation by inflammatory cytokines and demonstrate the application of the resultant trained models for three important purposes: (a) generating experimentally testable biological hypotheses concerning pathway crosstalk, (b) establishing capability for quantitative prediction of protein activity, and (c) prediction and understanding of the cytokine release phenotypic response. Our methodology systematically and quantitatively trains a protein pathway map summarizing curated literature to context-specific biochemical data. This process generates a computable model yielding successful prediction of new test data and offering biological insight into complex datasets that are difficult to fully analyze by intuition alone.

Author Summary

Over the past few years, many methods have been developed to construct large-scale networks from the literature or databases of genetic and physical interactions. With the advent of high-throughput biochemical methods, it is also possible to measure the states and activities of many proteins in these biochemical networks under different conditions of cellular stimulation and perturbation. Here we use constrained fuzzy logic to systematically compare interaction networks to experimental data. This systematic comparison elucidates interactions that were theoretically possible but not actually operating in the biological system of interest, as well as data that was not described by interactions in the prior knowledge network, pointing to a need to increase our knowledge in specific parts of the network. Furthermore, the result of this comparison is a trained, quantitative model that can be used to make a priori quantitative predictions about how the cellular protein network will respond in conditions not initially tested.

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