Massive-scale gene co-expression network construction and robustness testing using random matrix theory.
The study of gene relationships and their effect on biological function and phenotype is a focal point in systems biology. Gene co-expression networks built using microarray expression profiles are one technique for discovering and interpreting gene relationships. A knowledge-independent thresholding technique, such as Random Matrix Theory (RMT), is useful for identifying meaningful relationships. Highly connected genes in the thresholded network are then grouped into modules that provide insight into their collective functionality. While it has been shown that co-expression networks are biologically relevant, it has not been determined to what extent any given network is functionally robust given perturbations in the input sample set. For such a test, hundreds of networks are needed and hence a tool to rapidly construct these networks. To examine functional robustness of networks with varying input, we enhanced an existing RMT implementation for improved scalability and tested functional robustness of human (Homo sapiens), rice (Oryza sativa) and budding yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). We demonstrate dramatic decrease in network construction time and computational requirements and show that despite some variation in global properties between networks, functional similarity remains high. Moreover, the biological function captured by co-expression networks thresholded by RMT is highly robust.