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CySBGN: A Cytoscape plug-in to integrate SBGN maps

Emanuel Gonçalves, Martijn van Iersel and Julio Saez-Rodriguez*

Author Affiliations

, EMBL - European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-17

Published: 16 January 2013



A standard graphical notation is essential to facilitate exchange of network representations of biological processes. Towards this end, the Systems Biology Graphical Notation (SBGN) has been proposed, and it is already supported by a number of tools. However, support for SBGN in Cytoscape, one of the most widely used platforms in biology to visualise and analyse networks, is limited, and in particular it is not possible to import SBGN diagrams.


We have developed CySBGN, a Cytoscape plug-in that extends the use of Cytoscape visualisation and analysis features to SBGN maps. CySBGN adds support for Cytoscape users to visualize any of the three complementary SBGN languages: Process Description, Entity Relationship, and Activity Flow. The interoperability with other tools (CySBML plug-in and Systems Biology Format Converter) was also established allowing an automated generation of SBGN diagrams based on previously imported SBML models. The plug-in was tested using a suite of 53 different test cases that covers almost all possible entities, shapes, and connections. A rendering comparison with other tools that support SBGN was performed. To illustrate the interoperability with other Cytoscape functionalities, we present two analysis examples, shortest path calculation, and motif identification in a metabolic network.


CySBGN imports, modifies and analyzes SBGN diagrams in Cytoscape, and thus allows the application of the large palette of tools and plug-ins in this platform to networks and pathways in SBGN format.