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BMC Syst Biol. 2013 Aug 8;7:73. doi: 10.1186/1752-0509-7-73.

Reconstruction of large-scale regulatory networks based on perturbation graphs and transitive reduction: improved methods and their evaluation.

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Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Magdeburg, Germany.



The data-driven inference of intracellular networks is one of the key challenges of computational and systems biology. As suggested by recent works, a simple yet effective approach for reconstructing regulatory networks comprises the following two steps. First, the observed effects induced by directed perturbations are collected in a signed and directed perturbation graph (PG). In a second step, Transitive Reduction (TR) is used to identify and eliminate those edges in the PG that can be explained by paths and are therefore likely to reflect indirect effects.


In this work we introduce novel variants for PG generation and TR, leading to significantly improved performances. The key modifications concern: (i) use of novel statistical criteria for deriving a high-quality PG from experimental data; (ii) the application of local TR which allows only short paths to explain (and remove) a given edge; and (iii) a novel strategy to rank the edges with respect to their confidence. To compare the new methods with existing ones we not only apply them to a recent DREAM network inference challenge but also to a novel and unprecedented synthetic compendium consisting of 30,5000-gene networks simulated with varying biological and measurement error variances resulting in a total of 270 datasets. The benchmarks clearly demonstrate the superior reconstruction performance of the novel PG and TR variants compared to existing approaches. Moreover, the benchmark enabled us to draw some general conclusions. For example, it turns out that local TR restricted to paths with a length of only two is often sufficient or even favorable. We also demonstrate that considering edge weights is highly beneficial for TR whereas consideration of edge signs is of minor importance. We explain these observations from a graph-theoretical perspective and discuss the consequences with respect to a greatly reduced computational demand to conduct TR. Finally, as a realistic application scenario, we use our framework for inferring gene interactions in yeast based on a library of gene expression data measured in mutants with single knockouts of transcription factors. The reconstructed network shows a significant enrichment of known interactions, especially within the 100 most confident (and for experimental validation most relevant) edges.


This paper presents several major achievements. The novel methods introduced herein can be seen as state of the art for inference techniques relying on perturbation graphs and transitive reduction. Another key result of the study is the generation of a new and unprecedented large-scale in silico benchmark dataset accounting for different noise levels and providing a solid basis for unbiased testing of network inference methodologies. Finally, applying our approach to Saccharomyces cerevisiae suggested several new gene interactions with high confidence awaiting experimental validation.

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