A chain reaction approach to modelling gene pathways.
BACKGROUND: Of great interest in cancer prevention is how nutrient components affect gene pathways associated with the physiological events of puberty. Nutrient-gene interactions may cause changes in breast or prostate cells and, therefore, may result in cancer risk later in life. Analysis of gene pathways can lead to insights about nutrient-gene interactions and the development of more effective prevention approaches to reduce cancer risk. To date, researchers have relied heavily upon experimental assays (such as microarray analysis, etc.) to identify genes and their associated pathways that are affected by nutrient and diets. However, the vast number of genes and combinations of gene pathways, coupled with the expense of the experimental analyses, has delayed the progress of gene-pathway research. The development of an analytical approach based on available test data could greatly benefit the evaluation of gene pathways, and thus advance the study of nutrient-gene interactions in cancer prevention. In the present study, we have proposed a chain reaction model to simulate gene pathways, in which the gene expression changes through the pathway are represented by the species undergoing a set of chemical reactions. We have also developed a numerical tool to solve for the species changes due to the chain reactions over time. Through this approach we can examine the impact of nutrient-containing diets on the gene pathway; moreover, transformation of genes over time with a nutrient treatment can be observed numerically, which is very difficult to achieve experimentally. We apply this approach to microarray analysis data from an experiment which involved the effects of three polyphenols (nutrient treatments), epigallo-catechin-3-O-gallate (EGCG), genistein, and resveratrol, in a study of nutrient-gene interaction in the estrogen synthesis pathway during puberty. RESULTS: In this preliminary study, the estrogen synthesis pathway was simulated by a chain reaction model. By applying it to microarray data, the chain reaction model computed a set of reaction rates to examine the effects of three polyphenols (EGCG, genistein, and resveratrol) on gene expression in this pathway during puberty. We first performed statistical analysis to test the time factor on the estrogen synthesis pathway. Global tests were used to evaluate an overall gene expression change during puberty for each experimental group. Then, a chain reaction model was employed to simulate the estrogen synthesis pathway. Specifically, the model computed the reaction rates in a set of ordinary differential equations to describe interactions between genes in the pathway (A reaction rate K of A to B represents gene A will induce gene B per unit at a rate of K; we give details in the "method" section). Since disparate changes of gene expression may cause numerical error problems in solving these differential equations, we used an implicit scheme to address this issue. We first applied the chain reaction model to obtain the reaction rates for the control group. A sensitivity study was conducted to evaluate how well the model fits to the control group data at Day 50. Results showed a small bias and mean square error. These observations indicated the model is robust to low random noises and has a good fit for the control group. Then the chain reaction model derived from the control group data was used to predict gene expression at Day 50 for the three polyphenol groups. If these nutrients affect the estrogen synthesis pathways during puberty, we expect discrepancy between observed and expected expressions. Results indicated some genes had large differences in the EGCG (e.g., Hsd3b and Sts) and the resveratrol (e.g., Hsd3b and Hrmt12) groups. CONCLUSIONS: In the present study, we have presented (I) experimental studies of the effect of nutrient diets on the gene expression changes in a selected estrogen synthesis pathway. This experiment is valuable because it allows us to examine how the nutrient-containing diets regulate gene expression in the estrogen synthesis pathway during puberty; (II) global tests to assess an overall association of this particular pathway with time factor by utilizing generalized linear models to analyze microarray data; and (III) a chain reaction model to simulate the pathway. This is a novel application because we are able to translate the gene pathway into the chemical reactions in which each reaction channel describes gene-gene relationship in the pathway. In the chain reaction model, the implicit scheme is employed to efficiently solve the differential equations. Data analysis results show the proposed model is capable of predicting gene expression changes and demonstrating the effect of nutrient-containing diets on gene expression changes in the pathway. One of the objectives of this study is to explore and develop a numerical approach for simulating the gene expression change so that it can be applied and calibrated when the data of more time slices are available, and thus can be used to interpolate the expression change at a desired time point without conducting expensive experiments for a large amount of time points. Hence, we are not claiming this is either essential or the most efficient way for simulating this problem, rather a mathematical/numerical approach that can model the expression change of a large set of genes of a complex pathway. In addition, we understand the limitation of this experiment and realize that it is still far from being a complete model of predicting nutrient-gene interactions. The reason is that in the present model, the reaction rates were estimated based on available data at two time points; hence, the gene expression change is dependent upon the reaction rates and a linear function of the gene expressions. More data sets containing gene expression at various time slices are needed in order to improve the present model so that a non-linear variation of gene expression changes at different time can be predicted.