Inference of phenotype-relevant transcriptional regulatory networks elucidates cancer type-specific regulatory mechanisms in a pan-cancer study.


Emad A(1), Sinha S(2)(3)(4).
Author information:
(1)Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada. [Email]
(2)Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. [Email]
(3)Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. [Email]
(4)Cancer Center at Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. [Email]


Reconstruction of transcriptional regulatory networks (TRNs) is a powerful approach to unravel the gene expression programs involved in healthy and disease states of a cell. However, these networks are usually reconstructed independent of the phenotypic (or clinical) properties of the samples. Therefore, they may confound regulatory mechanisms that are specifically related to a phenotypic property with more general mechanisms underlying the full complement of the analyzed samples. In this study, we develop a method called InPheRNo to identify "phenotype-relevant" TRNs. This method is based on a probabilistic graphical model that models the simultaneous effects of multiple transcription factors (TFs) on their target genes and the statistical relationship between the target genes' expression and the phenotype. Extensive comparison of InPheRNo with related approaches using primary tumor samples of 18 cancer types from The Cancer Genome Atlas reveals that InPheRNo can accurately reconstruct cancer type-relevant TRNs and identify cancer driver TFs. In addition, survival analysis reveals that the activity level of TFs with many target genes could distinguish patients with poor prognosis from those with better prognosis.