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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Oct 14;100(21):12123-8. Epub 2003 Sep 29.

Protein complexes and functional modules in molecular networks.

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Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, 16-343, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Proteins, nucleic acids, and small molecules form a dense network of molecular interactions in a cell. Molecules are nodes of this network, and the interactions between them are edges. The architecture of molecular networks can reveal important principles of cellular organization and function, similarly to the way that protein structure tells us about the function and organization of a protein. Computational analysis of molecular networks has been primarily concerned with node degree [Wagner, A. & Fell, D. A. (2001) Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 268, 1803-1810; Jeong, H., Tombor, B., Albert, R., Oltvai, Z. N. & Barabasi, A. L. (2000) Nature 407, 651-654] or degree correlation [Maslov, S. & Sneppen, K. (2002) Science 296, 910-913], and hence focused on single/two-body properties of these networks. Here, by analyzing the multibody structure of the network of protein-protein interactions, we discovered molecular modules that are densely connected within themselves but sparsely connected with the rest of the network. Comparison with experimental data and functional annotation of genes showed two types of modules: (i) protein complexes (splicing machinery, transcription factors, etc.) and (ii) dynamic functional units (signaling cascades, cell-cycle regulation, etc.). Discovered modules are highly statistically significant, as is evident from comparison with random graphs, and are robust to noise in the data. Our results provide strong support for the network modularity principle introduced by Hartwell et al. [Hartwell, L. H., Hopfield, J. J., Leibler, S. & Murray, A. W. (1999) Nature 402, C47-C52], suggesting that found modules constitute the "building blocks" of molecular networks.

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