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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Network component analysis provides quantitative insights on an Arabidopsis transcription factor-gene regulatory network

Ashish Misra12 and Ganesh Sriram1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA

2 Current affiliation: DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences, Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, India

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BMC Systems Biology 2013, 7:126  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-7-126

Published: 14 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) are models of molecule-gene interactions instrumental in the coordination of gene expression. Transcription factor (TF)-GRNs are an important subset of GRNs that characterize gene expression as the effect of TFs acting on their target genes. Although such networks can qualitatively summarize TF-gene interactions, it is highly desirable to quantitatively determine the strengths of the interactions in a TF-GRN as well as the magnitudes of TF activities. To our knowledge, such analysis is rare in plant biology. A computational methodology developed for this purpose is network component analysis (NCA), which has been used for studying large-scale microbial TF-GRNs to obtain nontrivial, mechanistic insights. In this work, we employed NCA to quantitatively analyze a plant TF-GRN important in floral development using available regulatory information from AGRIS, by processing previously reported gene expression data from four shoot apical meristem cell types.

Results

The NCA model satisfactorily accounted for gene expression measurements in a TF-GRN of seven TFs (LFY, AG, SEPALLATA3 [SEP3], AP2, AGL15, HY5 and AP3/PI) and 55 genes. NCA found strong interactions between certain TF-gene pairs including LFY → MYB17, AG → CRC, AP2 → RD20, AGL15 → RAV2 and HY5 → HLH1, and the direction of the interaction (activation or repression) for some AGL15 targets for which this information was not previously available. The activity trends of four TFs - LFY, AG, HY5 and AP3/PI as deduced by NCA correlated well with the changes in expression levels of the genes encoding these TFs across all four cell types; such a correlation was not observed for SEP3, AP2 and AGL15.

Conclusions

For the first time, we have reported the use of NCA to quantitatively analyze a plant TF-GRN important in floral development for obtaining nontrivial information about connectivity strengths between TFs and their target genes as well as TF activity. However, since NCA relies on documented connectivity information about the underlying TF-GRN, it is currently limited in its application to larger plant networks because of the lack of documented connectivities. In the future, the identification of interactions between plant TFs and their target genes on a genome scale would allow the use of NCA to provide quantitative regulatory information about plant TF-GRNs, leading to improved insights on cellular regulatory programs.