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Open Access Research article

Incorporating time-delays in S-System model for reverse engineering genetic networks

Ahsan Raja Chowdhury12*, Madhu Chetty12 and Nguyen Xuan Vinh1

Author Affiliations

1 Gippsland School of Information Technology, Monash University, Churchill, Victoria-3842, Australia

2 National Information and Communication Technology Australia (NICTA), Melbourne, Australia

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:196  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-196

Published: 18 June 2013



In any gene regulatory network (GRN), the complex interactions occurring amongst transcription factors and target genes can be either instantaneous or time-delayed. However, many existing modeling approaches currently applied for inferring GRNs are unable to represent both these interactions simultaneously. As a result, all these approaches cannot detect important interactions of the other type. S-System model, a differential equation based approach which has been increasingly applied for modeling GRNs, also suffers from this limitation. In fact, all S-System based existing modeling approaches have been designed to capture only instantaneous interactions, and are unable to infer time-delayed interactions.


In this paper, we propose a novel Time-Delayed S-System (TDSS) model which uses a set of delay differential equations to represent the system dynamics. The ability to incorporate time-delay parameters in the proposed S-System model enables simultaneous modeling of both instantaneous and time-delayed interactions. Furthermore, the delay parameters are not limited to just positive integer values (corresponding to time stamps in the data), but can also take fractional values. Moreover, we also propose a new criterion for model evaluation exploiting the sparse and scale-free nature of GRNs to effectively narrow down the search space, which not only reduces the computation time significantly but also improves model accuracy. The evaluation criterion systematically adapts the max-min in-degrees and also systematically balances the effect of network accuracy and complexity during optimization.


The four well-known performance measures applied to the experimental studies on synthetic networks with various time-delayed regulations clearly demonstrate that the proposed method can capture both instantaneous and delayed interactions correctly with high precision. The experiments carried out on two well-known real-life networks, namely IRMA and SOS DNA repair network in Escherichia coli show a significant improvement compared with other state-of-the-art approaches for GRN modeling.