Abstract: Cells regulate themselves via dizzyingly complex biochemical processes called signaling pathways. These are usually depicted as a network, where nodes represent proteins and edges indicate their influence on each other. In order to understand diseases and therapies at the cellular level, it is crucial to have an accurate understanding of the signaling pathways at work. Since signaling pathways can be modified by disease, the ability to infer signaling pathways from condition- or patient-specific data is highly valuable. A variety of techniques exist for inferring signaling pathways. We build on past works that formulate signaling pathway inference as a Dynamic Bayesian Network structure estimation problem on phosphoproteomic time course data. We take a Bayesian approach, using Markov Chain Monte Carlo to estimate a posterior distribution over possible Dynamic Bayesian Network structures. Our primary contributions are (i) a novel proposal distribution that efficiently samples sparse graphs and (ii) the relaxation of common restrictive modeling assumptions. We implement our method, named Sparse Signaling Pathway Sampling, in Julia using the Gen probabilistic programming language. Probabilistic programming is a powerful methodology for building statistical models. The resulting code is modular, extensible, and legible. The Gen language, in particular, allows us to customize our inference procedure for biological graphs and ensure efficient sampling. We evaluate our algorithm on simulated data and the HPN-DREAM pathway reconstruction challenge, comparing our performance against a variety of baseline methods. Our results demonstrate the vast potential for probabilistic programming, and Gen specifically, for biological network inference.
Authors: David Merrell, Anthony Gitter (University of Wisconsin–Madison, Morgridge Institute for Research)