Background: So far, investigators have found numerous tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) and oncogenes (OCGs) that control cell proliferation and apoptosis during cancer development. Furthermore, TSGs and OCGs may act as modulators of transcription factors (TFs) to influence gene regulation. A comprehensive investigation of TSGs, OCGs, TFs, and their joint target genes at the network level may provide a deeper understanding of the post-translational modulation of TSGs and OCGs to TF gene regulation.
Methodology/principal findings: In this study, we developed a novel computational framework for identifying target genes of TSGs and OCGs using TFs as bridges through the integration of protein-protein interactions and gene expression data. We applied this pipeline to ovarian cancer and constructed a three-layer regulatory network. In the network, the top layer was comprised of modulators (TSGs and OCGs), the middle layer included TFs, and the bottom layer contained target genes. Based on regulatory relationships in the network, we compiled TSG and OCG profiles and performed clustering analyses. Interestingly, we found TSGs and OCGs formed two distinct branches. The genes in the TSG branch were significantly enriched in DNA damage and repair, regulating macromolecule metabolism, cell cycle and apoptosis, while the genes in the OCG branch were significantly enriched in the ErbB signaling pathway. Remarkably, their specific targets showed a reversed functional enrichment in terms of apoptosis and the ErbB signaling pathway: the target genes regulated by OCGs only were enriched in anti-apoptosis and the target genes regulated by TSGs only were enriched in the ErbB signaling pathway.
Conclusions/significance: This study provides the first comprehensive investigation of the interplay of TSGs and OCGs in a regulatory network modulated by TFs. Our application in ovarian cancer revealed distinct regulatory patterns of TSGs and OCGs, suggesting a competitive regulatory mechanism acting upon apoptosis and the ErbB signaling pathway through their specific target genes.