Inference of signaling and gene regulatory networks by steady-state perturbation experiments: Structure and accuracy

Michael Andrec, Boris N. Kholodenko, Ronald M. Levy, Eduardo Sontag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


One of the fundamental problems of cell biology is the understanding of complex regulatory networks. Such networks are ubiquitous in cells and knowledge of their properties is essential for the understanding of cellular behavior. In earlier work (Kholodenko et al. (PNAS 99: 12841), it was shown how the structure of biological networks can be quantified from experimental measurements of steady-state concentrations of key intermediates as a result of perturbations using a simple algorithm called "unravelling". Here, we study the effect of experimental uncertainty on the accuracy of the inferred structure (i.e. whether interactions are excitatory or inhibitory) of the networks determined using the unravelling algorithm. We show that the accuracy of the network structure depends not only on the noise level but on the strength of the interactions within the network. In particular, both very small and very large values of the connection strengths lead to large uncertainty in the inferred network. We describe a powerful geometric tool for the intuitive understanding of the effect of experimental error on the qualitative accuracy of the inferred network. In addition, we show that the use of additional data beyond that needed to minimally constrain the network not only improves the accuracy of the inferred network, but also may allow the detection of situations in which the initial assumptions of unravelling with respect to the network and the perturbations have been violated. Our ideas are illustrated using the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling network as an example.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-441
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 7 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


  • Black box
  • Module
  • Reverse engineering
  • Systems biology
  • Unravelling

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