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This article is part of the supplement: Selected articles from The 5th IEEE International Conference on Systems Biology (ISB 2011)

Open Access Research

A computational procedure for identifying master regulator candidates: a case study on diabetes progression in Goto-Kakizaki rats

Guanying Piao12, Shigeru Saito34, Yidan Sun25, Zhi-Ping Liu26, Yong Wang6, Xiao Han5, Jiarui Wu12*, Huarong Zhou2*, Luonan Chen23* and Katsuhisa Horimoto3*

Author affiliations

1 School of Life Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230026, China

2 Key Laboratory of Systems Biology, SIBS-Novo Nordisk Translational Research Centre for PreDiabetes, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200233, China

3 Computational Biology Research Center, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tokyo 135-0064, Japan

4 INFOCOM Corporation, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan

5 Key Laboratory of Human Functional Genomics of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing 210029, China

6 National Center for Mathematics and Interdisciplinary Sciences, Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China

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Citation and License

BMC Systems Biology 2012, 6(Suppl 1):S2  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-6-S1-S2

Published: 16 July 2012



We have recently identified a number of active regulatory networks involved in diabetes progression in Goto-Kakizaki (GK) rats by network screening. The networks were quite consistent with the previous knowledge of the regulatory relationships between transcription factors (TFs) and their regulated genes. To study the underlying molecular mechanisms directly related to phenotype changes, such as diseases, we also previously developed a computational procedure for identifying transcriptional master regulators (MRs) in conjunction with network screening and network inference, by effectively perturbing the phenotype states.


In this work, we further improved our previous method for identifying MR candidates, by listing them in a more reliable manner, and applied the method to reveal the MR candidates for diabetes progression in GK rats from the active networks. Specifically, the active TF-gene pairs for different time periods in GK rats were first extracted from the networks by network screening. Another set of active TF-gene pairs was selected by network inference, by considering the gene expression signatures for those periods between GK and Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats. The TF-gene pairs extracted by the two methods were then further selected, from the viewpoints of the emergence specificity of TF in GK rats and the regulated-gene coverage of TF in the expression signature. Finally, we narrowed all of the genes down to only 5 TFs (Etv4, Fus, Nr2f1, Sp2, and Tcfap2b) as the candidates of MRs, with 54 regulated genes, by merging the selected TF-gene pairs.


The present method has successfully identified biologically plausible MR candidates, including the TFs related to diabetes in previous reports. Although the experimental verifications of the candidates and the present procedure are beyond the scope of this study, we narrowed down the candidates to 5 TFs, which can be used to perform the verification experiments relatively easily. The numerical results showed that our computational method is an efficient way to detect the key molecules responsible for biological phenomena.