Robust Physiological Metrics From Sparsely Sampled Networks

Front Physiol. 2021 Feb 10;12:624097. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.624097. eCollection 2021.


Physiological and biochemical networks are highly complex, involving thousands of nodes as well as a hierarchical structure. True network structure is also rarely known. This presents major challenges for applying classical network theory to these networks. However, complex systems generally share the property of having a diffuse or distributed signal. Accordingly, we should predict that system state can be robustly estimated with sparse sampling, and with limited knowledge of true network structure. In this review, we summarize recent findings from several methodologies to estimate system state via a limited sample of biomarkers, notably Mahalanobis distance, principal components analysis, and cluster analysis. While statistically simple, these methods allow novel characterizations of system state when applied judiciously. Broadly, system state can often be estimated even from random samples of biomarkers. Furthermore, appropriate methods can detect emergent underlying physiological structure from this sparse data. We propose that approaches such as these are a powerful tool to understand physiology, and could lead to a new understanding and mapping of the functional implications of biological variation.

Keywords: alternative proteins; big data; complex dynamic system; network physiology; statistical distance; systems biology.

Publication types

  • Review