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Naeem, Haroon (2012): Activity of microRNAs and transcription factors in Gene Regulatory Networks: Activity of microRNAs and transcription factors in Gene Regulatory Networks. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics
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Abstract

In biological research, diverse high-throughput techniques enable the investigation of whole systems at the molecular level. The development of new methods and algorithms is necessary to analyze and interpret measurements of gene and protein expression and of interactions between genes and proteins. One of the challenges is the integrated analysis of gene expression and the associated regulation mechanisms. The two most important types of regulators, transcription factors (TFs) and microRNAs (miRNAs), often cooperate in complex networks at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional level and, thus, enable a combinatorial and highly complex regulation of cellular processes. For instance, TFs activate and inhibit the expression of other genes including other TFs whereas miRNAs can post-transcriptionally induce the degradation of transcribed RNA and impair the translation of mRNA into proteins. The identification of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) is mandatory in order to understand the underlying control mechanisms. The expression of regulators is itself regulated, i.e. activating or inhibiting regulators in varying conditions and perturbations. Thus, measurements of gene expression following targeted perturbations (knockouts or overexpressions) of these regulators are of particular importance. The prediction of the activity states of the regulators and the prediction of the target genes are first important steps towards the construction of GRNs. This thesis deals with these first bioinformatics steps to construct GRNs. Targets of TFs and miRNAs are determined as comprehensively and accurately as possible. The activity state of regulators is predicted for specific high-throughput data and specific contexts using appropriate statistical approaches. Moreover, (parts of) GRNs are inferred, which lead to explanations of given measurements. The thesis describes new approaches for these tasks together with accompanying evaluations and validations. This immediately defines the three main goals of the current thesis: 1. The development of a comprehensive database of regulator-target relation. Regulators and targets are retrieved from public repositories, extracted from the literature via text mining and collected into the miRSel database. In addition, relations can be predicted using various published methods. In order to determine the activity states of regulators (see 2.) and to infer GRNs (3.) comprehensive and accurate regulator-target relations are required. It could be shown that text mining enables the reliable extraction of miRNA, gene, and protein names as well as their relations from scientific free texts. Overall, the miRSel contains about three times more relations for the model organisms human, mouse, and rat as compared to state-of-the-art databases (e.g. TarBase, one of the currently most used resources for miRNA-target relations). 2. The prediction of activity states of regulators based on improved target sets. In order to investigate mechanisms of gene regulation, the experimental contexts have to be determined in which the respective regulators become active. A regulator is predicted as active based on appropriate statistical tests applied to the expression values of its set of target genes. For this task various gene set enrichment (GSE) methods have been proposed. Unfortunately, before an actual experiment it is unknown which genes are affected. The missing standard-of-truth so far has prevented the systematic assessment and evaluation of GSE tests. In contrast, the trigger of gene expression changes is of course known for experiments where a particular regulator has been directly perturbed (i.e. by knockout, transfection, or overexpression). Based on such datasets, we have systematically evaluated 12 current GSE tests. In our analysis ANOVA and the Wilcoxon test performed best. 3. The prediction of regulation cascades. Using gene expression measurements and given regulator-target relations (e.g. from the miRSel database) GRNs are derived. GSE tests are applied to determine TFs and miRNAs that change their activity as cellular response to an overexpressed miRNA. Gene regulatory networks can constructed iteratively. Our models show how miRNAs trigger gene expression changes: either directly or indirectly via cascades of miRNA-TF, miRNA-kinase-TF as well as TF-TF relations. In this thesis we focus on measurements which have been obtained after overexpression of miRNAs. Surprisingly, a number of cancer relevant miRNAs influence a common core of TFs which are involved in processes such as proliferation and apoptosis.