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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

On the contributions of topological features to transcriptional regulatory network robustness

Faiyaz Al Zamal* and Derek Ruths

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School of Computer Science, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:318  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-318

Published: 30 November 2012



Because biological networks exhibit a high-degree of robustness, a systemic understanding of their architecture and function requires an appraisal of the network design principles that confer robustness. In this project, we conduct a computational study of the contribution of three degree-based topological properties (transcription factor-target ratio, degree distribution, cross-talk suppression) and their combinations on the robustness of transcriptional regulatory networks. We seek to quantify the relative degree of robustness conferred by each property (and combination) and also to determine the extent to which these properties alone can explain the robustness observed in transcriptional networks.


To study individual properties and their combinations, we generated synthetic, random networks that retained one or more of the three properties with values derived from either the yeast or E. coli gene regulatory networks. Robustness of these networks were estimated through simulation. Our results indicate that the combination of the three properties we considered explains the majority of the structural robustness observed in the real transcriptional networks. Surprisingly, scale-free degree distribution is, overall, a minor contributor to robustness. Instead, most robustness is gained through topological features that limit the complexity of the overall network and increase the transcription factor subnetwork sparsity.


Our work demonstrates that (i) different types of robustness are implemented by different topological aspects of the network and (ii) size and sparsity of the transcription factor subnetwork play an important role for robustness induction. Our results are conserved across yeast and E Coli, which suggests that the design principles examined are present within an array of living systems.

Robustness; Scale-free; Topology; Transcriptional network