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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Minimally perturbing a gene regulatory network to avoid a disease phenotype: the glioma network as a test case

Guy Karlebach* and Ron Shamir

Author Affiliations

Tel-Aviv University, Haim Levanon St., 69978, Tel-Aviv, Israel

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:15  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-15

Published: 25 February 2010



Mathematical modeling of biological networks is an essential part of Systems Biology. Developing and using such models in order to understand gene regulatory networks is a major challenge.


We present an algorithm that determines the smallest perturbations required for manipulating the dynamics of a network formulated as a Petri net, in order to cause or avoid a specified phenotype. By modifying McMillan's unfolding algorithm, we handle partial knowledge and reduce computation cost. The methodology is demonstrated on a glioma network. Out of the single gene perturbations, activation of glutathione S-transferase P (GSTP1) gene was by far the most effective in blocking the cancer phenotype. Among pairs of perturbations, NFkB and TGF-β had the largest joint effect, in accordance with their role in the EMT process.


Our method allows perturbation analysis of regulatory networks and can overcome incomplete information. It can help in identifying drug targets and in prioritizing perturbation experiments.