Understanding how regulatory networks globally coordinate the response of a cell to changing conditions, such as perturbations by shifting environments, is an elementary challenge in systems biology which has yet to be met. Genome-wide gene expression measurements are high dimensional as these are reflecting the condition-specific interplay of thousands of cellular components. The integration of prior biological knowledge into the modeling process of systems-wide gene regulation enables the large-scale interpretation of gene expression signals in the context of known regulatory relations. We developed COGERE (http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/cogere), a method for the inference of condition-specific gene regulatory networks in human and mouse. We integrated existing knowledge of regulatory interactions from multiple sources to a comprehensive model of prior information. COGERE infers condition-specific regulation by evaluating the mutual dependency between regulator (transcription factor or miRNA) and target gene expression using prior information. This dependency is scored by the non-parametric, nonlinear correlation coefficient η(2) (eta squared) that is derived by a two-way analysis of variance. We show that COGERE significantly outperforms alternative methods in predicting condition-specific gene regulatory networks on simulated data sets. Furthermore, by inferring the cancer-specific gene regulatory network from the NCI-60 expression study, we demonstrate the utility of COGERE to promote hypothesis-driven clinical research.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.