Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A network perspective on metabolic inconsistency

Nikolaus Sonnenschein1*, José Felipe Golib Dzib2, Annick Lesne23, Sebastian Eilebrecht24, Sheerazed Boulkroun5, Maria-Christina Zennaro56, Arndt Benecke24 and Marc-Thorsten Hütt1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Engineering and Science, Jacobs University Bremen, Campus Ring 1, 28759 Bremen, Germany

2 , Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques — Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Bures-sur-Yvette, France

3 LPTMC CNRS UMR 7600, Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, 4 place Jussieu75252 Paris Cedex 05, France

4 Vaccine Research Institute, INSERM U955, Institut Mondor de Recherche Biomédicale, Université Paris-Est Créteil, Créteil, France

5 INSERM, U970, Paris Cardiovascular Research Center, Paris, France

6 , University Paris Descartes, Paris, France

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BMC Systems Biology 2012, 6:41  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-6-41

Published: 14 May 2012



Integrating gene expression profiles and metabolic pathways under different experimental conditions is essential for understanding the coherence of these two layers of cellular organization. The network character of metabolic systems can be instrumental in developing concepts of agreement between expression data and pathways. A network-driven interpretation of gene expression data has the potential of suggesting novel classifiers for pathological cellular states and of contributing to a general theoretical understanding of gene regulation.


Here, we analyze the coherence of gene expression patterns and a reconstruction of human metabolism, using consistency scores obtained from network and constraint-based analysis methods. We find a surprisingly strong correlation between the two measures, demonstrating that a substantial part of inconsistencies between metabolic processes and gene expression can be understood from a network perspective alone. Prompted by this finding, we investigate the topological context of the individual biochemical reactions responsible for the observed inconsistencies. On this basis, we are able to separate the differential contributions that bear physiological information about the system, from the unspecific contributions that unravel gaps in the metabolic reconstruction. We demonstrate the biological potential of our network-driven approach by analyzing transcriptome profiles of aldosterone producing adenomas that have been obtained from a cohort of Primary Aldosteronism patients. We unravel systematics in the data that could not have been resolved by conventional microarray data analysis. In particular, we discover two distinct metabolic states in the adenoma expression patterns.


The methodology presented here can help understand metabolic inconsistencies from a network perspective. It thus serves as a mediator between the topology of metabolic systems and their dynamical function. Finally, we demonstrate how physiologically relevant insights into the structure and dynamics of metabolic networks can be obtained using this novel approach.