Jos C S Kleinjans, Danyel G J Jennen, Terezinha M Souza
Perturbation of biological networks is often observed during exposure to xenobiotics, and the identification of disturbed processes, their dynamic traits, and dose-response relationships are some of the current challenges for elucidating the mechanisms determining adverse outcomes. In this scenario, reverse engineering of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) from expression data may provide a system-level snapshot embedded within accurate molecular events. Here, we investigate the composition of GRNs inferred from groups of chemicals with two distinct outcomes, namely carcinogenicity [azathioprine (AZA) and cyclophosphamide (CYC)] and drug-induced liver injury (DILI; diclofenac, nitrofurantoin, and propylthiouracil), and a non-carcinogenic/non-DILI group (aspirin, diazepam, and omeprazole). For this, we analyzed publicly available exposed in vitro human data, taking into account dose and time dependencies. Dose-Time Network Identification (DTNI) was applied to gene sets from exposed primary human hepatocytes using four stress pathways, namely endoplasmic reticulum (ER), NF-κB, NRF2, and TP53. Inferred GRNs suggested case specificity, varying in interactions, starting nodes, and target genes across groups. DILI and carcinogenic compounds were shown to directly affect all pathway-based GRNs, while non-DILI/non-carcinogenic chemicals only affected NF-κB. NF-κB-based GRNs clearly illustrated group-specific disturbances, with the cancer-related casein kinase CSNK2A1 being a target gene only in the carcinogenic group, and opposite regulation of NF-κB subunits being observed in DILI and non-DILI/non-carcinogenic groups. Target genes in NRF2-based GRNs shared by DILI and carcinogenic compounds suggested markers of hepatotoxicity. Finally, we indicate several of these group-specific interactions as potentially novel. In summary, our reversed-engineered GRNs are capable of revealing dose dependent, chemical-specific mechanisms of action in stress-related biological networks.