Multilevel functional genomics data integration as a tool for understanding physiology: a network biology perspective

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2016 Feb 1;120(3):297-309. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01110.2014. Epub 2015 Nov 5.


The overall aim of physiological research is to understand how living systems function in an integrative manner. Consequently, the discipline of physiology has since its infancy attempted to link multiple levels of biological organization. Increasingly this has involved mathematical and computational approaches, typically to model a small number of components spanning several levels of biological organization. With the advent of "omics" technologies, which can characterize the molecular state of a cell or tissue (intended as the level of expression and/or activity of its molecular components), the number of molecular components we can quantify has increased exponentially. Paradoxically, the unprecedented amount of experimental data has made it more difficult to derive conceptual models underlying essential mechanisms regulating mammalian physiology. We present an overview of state-of-the-art methods currently used to identifying biological networks underlying genomewide responses. These are based on a data-driven approach that relies on advanced computational methods designed to "learn" biology from observational data. In this review, we illustrate an application of these computational methodologies using a case study integrating an in vivo model representing the transcriptional state of hypoxic skeletal muscle with a clinical study representing muscle wasting in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. The broader application of these approaches to modeling multiple levels of biological data in the context of modern physiology is discussed.

Keywords: data integration; genomics; systems biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Genomics / methods
  • Humans
  • Physiology / methods*
  • Systems Biology / methods