A Boolean-based systems biology approach to predict novel genes associated with cancer: Application to colorectal cancer
Computational and Systems Biology, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Division of Livestock Industries, Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland 4067, Australia
BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:35 doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-35Published: 26 February 2011
Cancer has remarkable complexity at the molecular level, with multiple genes, proteins, pathways and regulatory interconnections being affected. We introduce a systems biology approach to study cancer that formally integrates the available genetic, transcriptomic, epigenetic and molecular knowledge on cancer biology and, as a proof of concept, we apply it to colorectal cancer.
We first classified all the genes in the human genome into cancer-associated and non-cancer-associated genes based on extensive literature mining. We then selected a set of functional attributes proven to be highly relevant to cancer biology that includes protein kinases, secreted proteins, transcription factors, post-translational modifications of proteins, DNA methylation and tissue specificity. These cancer-associated genes were used to extract 'common cancer fingerprints' through these molecular attributes, and a Boolean logic was implemented in such a way that both the expression data and functional attributes could be rationally integrated, allowing for the generation of a guilt-by-association algorithm to identify novel cancer-associated genes. Finally, these candidate genes are interlaced with the known cancer-related genes in a network analysis aimed at identifying highly conserved gene interactions that impact cancer outcome. We demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach using colorectal cancer as a test case and identify several novel candidate genes that are classified according to their functional attributes. These genes include the following: 1) secreted proteins as potential biomarkers for the early detection of colorectal cancer (FXYD1, GUCA2B, REG3A); 2) kinases as potential drug candidates to prevent tumor growth (CDC42BPB, EPHB3, TRPM6); and 3) potential oncogenic transcription factors (CDK8, MEF2C, ZIC2).
We argue that this is a holistic approach that faithfully mimics cancer characteristics, efficiently predicts novel cancer-associated genes and has universal applicability to the study and advancement of cancer research.