A Simple Screening Approach To Prioritize Genes for Functional Analysis Identifies a Role for Interferon Regulatory Factor 7 in the Control of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Disease

mSystems. 2016 Jun 28;1(3):e00051-16. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00051-16. eCollection May-Jun 2016.


Greater understanding of the functions of host gene products in response to infection is required. While many of these genes enable pathogen clearance, some enhance pathogen growth or contribute to disease symptoms. Many studies have profiled transcriptomic and proteomic responses to infection, generating large data sets, but selecting targets for further study is challenging. Here we propose a novel data-mining approach combining multiple heterogeneous data sets to prioritize genes for further study by using respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection as a model pathogen with a significant health care impact. The assumption was that the more frequently a gene is detected across multiple studies, the more important its role is. A literature search was performed to find data sets of genes and proteins that change after RSV infection. The data sets were standardized, collated into a single database, and then panned to determine which genes occurred in multiple data sets, generating a candidate gene list. This candidate gene list was validated by using both a clinical cohort and in vitro screening. We identified several genes that were frequently expressed following RSV infection with no assigned function in RSV control, including IFI27, IFIT3, IFI44L, GBP1, OAS3, IFI44, and IRF7. Drilling down into the function of these genes, we demonstrate a role in disease for the gene for interferon regulatory factor 7, which was highly ranked on the list, but not for IRF1, which was not. Thus, we have developed and validated an approach for collating published data sets into a manageable list of candidates, identifying novel targets for future analysis. IMPORTANCE Making the most of "big data" is one of the core challenges of current biology. There is a large array of heterogeneous data sets of host gene responses to infection, but these data sets do not inform us about gene function and require specialized skill sets and training for their utilization. Here we describe an approach that combines and simplifies these data sets, distilling this information into a single list of genes commonly upregulated in response to infection with RSV as a model pathogen. Many of the genes on the list have unknown functions in RSV disease. We validated the gene list with new clinical, in vitro, and in vivo data. This approach allows the rapid selection of genes of interest for further, more-detailed studies, thus reducing time and costs. Furthermore, the approach is simple to use and widely applicable to a range of diseases.

Keywords: host response; immunity; respiratory syncytial virus; viral immunity.