A Validated Regulatory Network for Th17 Cell Specification

Maria Ciofani1, 10, Aviv Madar3, 4, 10, Carolina Galan1, MacLean Sellars1, Kieran Mace3, Florencia Pauli5, Ashish Agarwal3, Wendy Huang1, Christopher N. Parkurst1, Michael Muratet5, Kim M. Newberry5, Sarah Meadows5, Alex Greenfield2, Yi Yang1, Preti Jain5, Francis K. Kirigin2, Carmen Birchmeier6, Erwin F. Wagner7, Kenneth M. Murphy8, 9, Richard M. Myers5, Richard Bonneau3, 4, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author, Dan R. Littman1, 9, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author

1 Molecular Pathogenesis Program, The Kimmel Center for Biology and Medicine of the Skirball Institute, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016, USA

2 Computational Biology Program, The Sackler Institute, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016, USA

3 Department of Biology, Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University, New York, NY, 10003 USA

4 Computer Science Department, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, New York, NY, 10003 USA

5 HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Huntsville, AL 35806, USA

6 Developmental Biology, Max Delbruck for Molecular Medicine, 13125 Berlin, Germany

7 Cancer Cell Biology Programme, Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), E-28029 Madrid, Spain

8 Department of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63108, USA

9 The Howard Hughes Medical Institute



Th17 cells have critical roles in mucosal defense and are major contributors to inflammatory disease. Their differentiation requires the nuclear hormone receptor RORγt working with multiple other essential transcription factors (TFs). We have used an iterative systems approach, combining genome-wide TF occupancy, expression profiling of TF mutants, and expression time series to delineate the Th17 global transcriptional regulatory network. We find that cooperatively bound BATF and IRF4 contribute to initial chromatin accessibility and, with STAT3, initiate a transcriptional program that is then globally tuned by the lineage-specifying TF RORγt, which plays a focal deterministic role at key loci. Integration of multiple data sets allowed inference of an accurate predictive model that we computationally and experimentally validated, identifying multiple new Th17 regulators, including Fosl2, a key determinant of cellular plasticity. This interconnected network can be used to investigate new therapeutic approaches to manipulate Th17 functions in the setting of inflammatory disease.


TREEGL: reverse engineering tree-evolving gene networks underlying developing biological lineages

Ankur P. Parikh1, Wei Wu2, Ross E. Curtis3,4 and Eric P. Xing1,3,4

1 School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, 2 Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, 3 Lane Center for Computational Biology, Carnegie Mellon University and 4 Joint Carnegie Mellon University-University of Pittsburgh PhD Program in Computational Biology, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213

Motivation: Estimating gene regulatory networks over biological lineages is central to a deeper understanding of how cells evolve during development and differentiation. However, one challenge in estimating such evolving networks is that their host cells not only contiguously evolve, but also branch over time. For example, a stem cell evolves into two more specialized daughter cells at each division, forming a tree of networks. Another example is in a laboratory setting: a biologist may apply several different drugs individually to malignant cancer cells to analyze the effects of each drug on the cells; the cells treated by one drug may not be intrinsically similar to those treated by another, but rather to the malignant cancer cells they were derived from.

Results: We propose a novel algorithm, Treegl, an ℓ1 plus total variation penalized linear regression method, to effectively estimate multiple gene networks corresponding to cell types related by a tree-genealogy, based on only a few samples from each cell type. Treegl takes advantage of the similarity between related networks along the biological lineage, while at the same time exposing sharp differences between the networks. We demonstrate that our algorithm performs significantly better than existing methods via simulation. Furthermore we explore an application to a breast cancer dataset, and show that our algorithm is able to produce biologically valid results that provide insight into the progression and reversion of breast cancer cells.

Availability: Software will be available at http://www.sailing.cs.cmu.edu/.

Contact: epxing@cs.cmu.edu


Differential expression in RNA-seq: A matter of depth

Sonia Tarazona1,2, Fernando García-Alcalde1, Joaquín Dopazo1, Alberto Ferrer2 and Ana Conesa1,3
1Bioinformatics and Genomics Department, Centro de Investigación Príncipe Felipe, 46012 Valencia, Spain;
2Department of Applied Statistics, Operations Research and Quality, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, 46022 Valencia, Spain

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies are revolutionizing genome research, and in particular, their application to transcriptomics (RNA-seq) is increasingly being used for gene expression profiling as a replacement for microarrays. However, the properties of RNA-seq data have not been yet fully established, and additional research is needed for understanding how these data respond to differential expression analysis. In this work, we set out to gain insights into the characteristics of RNA-seq data analysis by studying an important parameter of this technology: the sequencing depth. We have analyzed how sequencing depth affects the detection of transcripts and their identification as differentially expressed, looking at aspects such as transcript biotype, length, expression level, and fold-change. We have evaluated different algorithms available for the analysis of RNA-seq and proposed a novel approach—NOISeq—that differs from existing methods in that it is data-adaptive and nonparametric. Our results reveal that most existing methodologies suffer from a strong dependency on sequencing depth for their differential expression calls and that this results in a considerable number of false positives that increases as the number of reads grows. In contrast, our proposed method models the noise distribution from the actual data, can therefore better adapt to the size of the data set, and is more effective in controlling the rate of false discoveries. This work discusses the true potential of RNA-seq for studying regulation at low expression ranges, the noise within RNA-seq data, and the issue of replication.


Perturbation Biology: Inferring Signaling Networks in Cellular Systems

Evan J. Molinelli equal contributor, Anil Korkut equal contributor, Weiqing Wang equal contributor, Martin L. Miller, Nicholas P. Gauthier, Xiaohong Jing, Poorvi Kaushik, Qin He, Gordon Mills, David B. Solit, Christine A. Pratilas, Martin Weigt, Alfredo Braunstein, Andrea Pagnani, Riccardo Zecchina, Chris Sander


We present a powerful experimental-computational technology for inferring network models that predict the response of cells to perturbations, and that may be useful in the design of combinatorial therapy against cancer. The experiments are systematic series of perturbations of cancer cell lines by targeted drugs, singly or in combination. The response to perturbation is quantified in terms of relative changes in the measured levels of proteins, phospho-proteins and cellular phenotypes such as viability. Computational network models are derived de novo, i.e., without prior knowledge of signaling pathways, and are based on simple non-linear differential equations. The prohibitively large solution space of all possible network models is explored efficiently using a probabilistic algorithm, Belief Propagation (BP), which is three orders of magnitude faster than standard Monte Carlo methods. Explicit executable models are derived for a set of perturbation experiments in SKMEL-133 melanoma cell lines, which are resistant to the therapeutically important inhibitor of RAF kinase. The resulting network models reproduce and extend known pathway biology. They empower potential discoveries of new molecular interactions and predict efficacious novel drug perturbations, such as the inhibition of PLK1, which is verified experimentally. This technology is suitable for application to larger systems in diverse areas of molecular biology.