Generation of Realistic Gene Regulatory Networks by Enriching for Feed-Forward Loops

Front Genet. 2022 Feb 10:13:815692. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2022.815692. eCollection 2022.


The regulatory relationships between genes and proteins in a cell form a gene regulatory network (GRN) that controls the cellular response to changes in the environment. A number of inference methods to reverse engineer the original GRN from large-scale expression data have recently been developed. However, the absence of ground-truth GRNs when evaluating the performance makes realistic simulations of GRNs necessary. One aspect of this is that local network motif analysis of real GRNs indicates that the feed-forward loop (FFL) is significantly enriched. To simulate this properly, we developed a novel motif-based preferential attachment algorithm, FFLatt, which outperformed the popular GeneNetWeaver network generation tool in reproducing the FFL motif occurrence observed in literature-based biological GRNs. It also preserves important topological properties such as scale-free topology, sparsity, and average in/out-degree per node. We conclude that FFLatt is well-suited as a network generation module for a benchmarking framework with the aim to provide fair and robust performance evaluation of GRN inference methods.

Keywords: benchmarking; gene regulatory networks; gene-gene interaction; network biology; network generation; network motif structure; network simulation.