Unravelling gene regulatory networks (GRNs) influenced by chemicals is a major challenge in systems toxicology. Because toxicant-induced GRNs evolve over time and dose, the analysis of global gene expression data measured at multiple time points and doses will provide insight in the adverse effects of compounds. Therefore, there is a need for mathematical methods for GRN identification from time-over-dose-dependent data. One of the current approaches for GRN inference is Time Series Network Identification (TSNI). TSNI is based on ordinary differential equations (ODE), describing the time evolution of the expression of each gene, which is assumed to be dependent on the expression of other genes and an external perturbation (i.e. chemical exposure). Here, we present Dose-Time Network Identification (DTNI), a method extending TSNI by including ODE describing how the expression of each gene evolves with dose, which is supposed to depend on the expression of other genes and the exposure time. We also adapted TSNI in order to enable inclusion of time-over-dose-dependent data from multiple compounds. Here, we show that DTNI outperforms TSNI in inferring a toxicant-induced GRN. Moreover, we show that DTNI is a suitable method to infer a GRN dose- and time-dependently induced by a group of compounds influencing a common biological process. Applying DTNI on experimental data from TG-GATEs, we demonstrate that DTNI provides in-depth information on the mode of action of compounds, in particular key events and potential molecular initiating events. Furthermore, DTNI also discloses several unknown interactions which have to be verified experimentally.
Keywords: Dose–response; Gene regulatory network inference; Key event; Mode of action; Molecular initiating event; Time series.