Connectivity Measures for Signaling Pathway Topologies

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Virginia Tech

Characterizing cellular responses to different extrinsic signals is an active area of research, and curated pathway databases describe these complex signaling reactions. Here, we revisit a fundamental question in signaling pathway analysis: are two molecules “connected” in a network? This question is the first step towards understanding the potential influence of molecules in a pathway, and the answer depends on the choice of modeling framework. We examined the connectivity of Reactome signaling pathways using four different pathway representations. We find that Reactome is very well connected as a graph, moderately well connected as a compound graph or bipartite graph, and poorly connected as a hypergraph (which captures many-to-many relationships in reaction networks). We present a novel relaxation of hypergraph connectivity that iteratively increases connectivity from a node while preserving the hypergraph topology. This measure, B-relaxation distance, provides a parameterized transition between hypergraph connectivity and graph connectivity. B-relaxation distance is sensitive to the presence of small molecules that participate in many functionally unrelated reactions in the network. We also define a score that quantifies one pathway’s downstream influence on another, which can be calculated as B-relaxation distance gradually relaxes the connectivity constraint in hypergraphs. Computing this score across all pairs of 34 Reactome pathways reveals two case studies of pathway influence, and we describe the specific reactions that contribute to the large influence score. Our method lays the groundwork for other generalizations of graph-theoretic concepts to hypergraphs in order to facilitate signaling pathway analysis.