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Mol Biosyst. 2012 Apr;8(4):1121-7. doi: 10.1039/c2mb05365a. Epub 2012 Feb 10.

PageRank-based identification of signaling crosstalk from transcriptomics data: the case of Arabidopsis thaliana.

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Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25, 14476 Potsdam, Germany.


The levels of cellular organization, from gene transcription to translation to protein-protein interaction and metabolism, operate via tightly regulated mutual interactions, facilitating organismal adaptability and various stress responses. Characterizing the mutual interactions between genes, transcription factors, and proteins involved in signaling, termed crosstalk, is therefore crucial for understanding and controlling cells' functionality. We aim at using high-throughput transcriptomics data to discover previously unknown links between signaling networks. We propose and analyze a novel method for crosstalk identification which relies on transcriptomics data and overcomes the lack of complete information for signaling pathways in Arabidopsis thaliana. Our method first employs a network-based transformation of the results from the statistical analysis of differential gene expression in given groups of experiments under different signal-inducing conditions. The stationary distribution of a random walk (similar to the PageRank algorithm) on the constructed network is then used to determine the putative transcripts interrelating different signaling pathways. With the help of the proposed method, we analyze a transcriptomics data set including experiments from four different stresses/signals: nitrate, sulfur, iron, and hormones. We identified promising gene candidates, downstream of the transcription factors (TFs), associated to signaling crosstalk, which were validated through literature mining. In addition, we conduct a comparative analysis with the only other available method in this field which used a biclustering-based approach. Surprisingly, the biclustering-based approach fails to robustly identify any candidate genes involved in the crosstalk of the analyzed signals. We demonstrate that our proposed method is more robust in identifying gene candidates involved downstream of the signaling crosstalk for species for which large transcriptomics data sets, normalized with the same techniques, are available. Moreover, unlike approaches based on biclustering, our approach does not rely on any hidden parameters.

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