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Tavakkolkhah, Pegah; Zimmer, Ralf; Küffner, Robert (2018): Detection of network motifs using three-way ANOVA.
In: PLOS One 13(8), e0201382
Creative Commons Attribution 2MB


Motivation Gene regulatory networks (GRN) can be determined via various experimental techniques, and also by computational methods, which infer networks from gene expression data. However, these techniques treat interactions separately such that interdependencies of interactions forming meaningful subnetworks are typically not considered. Methods For the investigation of network properties and for the classification of different (sub-) networks based on gene expression data, we consider biological network motifs consisting of three genes and up to three interactions, e.g. the cascade chain (CSC), feed-forward loop (FFL), and dense-overlapping regulon (DOR). We examine several conventional methods for the inference of network motifs, which typically consider each interaction individually. In addition, we propose a new method based on three-way ANOVA (ANalysis Of VAriance) (3WA) that analyzes entire subnetworks at once. To demonstrate the advantages of such a more holistic perspective, we compare the ability of 3WA and other methods to detect and categorize network motifs on large real and artificial datasets. Results We find that conventional methods perform much better on artificial data (AUC up to 80%), than on real E. coli expression datasets (AUC 50% corresponding to random guessing). To explain this observation, we examine several important properties that differ between datasets and analyze predicted motifs in detail. We find that in case of real networks our new 3WA method outperforms (AUC 70% in E. coli) previous methods by exploiting the interdependencies in the full motif structure. Because of important differences between current artificial datasets and real measurements, the construction and testing of motif detection methods should focus on real data.