Discovering Networks of Perturbed Biological Processes in Hepatocyte Cultures
The liver plays a vital role in glucose homeostasis, the synthesis of bile acids and the detoxification of foreign substances. Liver culture systems are widely used to test adverse effects of drugs and environmental toxicants. The two most prevalent liver culture systems are hepatocyte monolayers (HMs) and collagen sandwiches (CS). Despite their wide use, comprehensive transcriptional programs and interaction networks in these culture systems have not been systematically investigated. We integrated an existing temporal transcriptional dataset for HM and CS cultures of rat hepatocytes with a functional interaction network of rat genes. We aimed to exploit the functional interactions to identify statistically significant linkages between perturbed biological processes. To this end, we developed a novel approach to compute Contextual Biological Process Linkage Networks (CBPLNs). CBPLNs revealed numerous meaningful connections between different biological processes and gene sets, which we were successful in interpreting within the context of liver metabolism. Multiple phenomena captured by CBPLNs at the process level such as regulation, downstream effects, and feedback loops have well described counterparts at the gene and protein level. CBPLNs reveal high-level linkages between pathways and processes, making the identification of important biological trends more tractable than through interactions between individual genes and molecules alone. Our approach may provide a new route to explore, analyze, and understand cellular responses to internal and external cues within the context of the intricate networks of molecular interactions that control cellular behavior.