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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

The multiscale backbone of the human phenotype network based on biological pathways

Christian Darabos1, Marquitta J White12, Britney E Graham1, Derek N Leung1, Scott M Williams1 and Jason H Moore1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics, Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA

2 Center for Human Genetics Research, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

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BioData Mining 2014, 7:1  doi:10.1186/1756-0381-7-1

Published: 25 January 2014

Abstract

Background

Networks are commonly used to represent and analyze large and complex systems of interacting elements. In systems biology, human disease networks show interactions between disorders sharing common genetic background. We built pathway-based human phenotype network (PHPN) of over 800 physical attributes, diseases, and behavioral traits; based on about 2,300 genes and 1,200 biological pathways. Using GWAS phenotype-to-genes associations, and pathway data from Reactome, we connect human traits based on the common patterns of human biological pathways, detecting more pleiotropic effects, and expanding previous studies from a gene-centric approach to that of shared cell-processes.

Results

The resulting network has a heavily right-skewed degree distribution, placing it in the scale-free region of the network topologies spectrum. We extract the multi-scale information backbone of the PHPN based on the local densities of the network and discarding weak connection. Using a standard community detection algorithm, we construct phenotype modules of similar traits without applying expert biological knowledge. These modules can be assimilated to the disease classes. However, we are able to classify phenotypes according to shared biology, and not arbitrary disease classes. We present examples of expected clinical connections identified by PHPN as proof of principle.

Conclusions

We unveil a previously uncharacterized connection between phenotype modules and discuss potential mechanistic connections that are obvious only in retrospect. The PHPN shows tremendous potential to become a useful tool both in the unveiling of the diseases’ common biology, and in the elaboration of diagnosis and treatments.

Keywords:
Diseasome; Phenotypes; GWAS; Network; Information theory; Biological pathways