Identifying Master Regulators of Cancer and Their Downstream Targets by Integrating Genomic and Epigenomic Features

Olivier Gevaert1, Sylvia Plevritis2

1Radiology, Stanford;2Radiology, Stanford

Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing 18:123-134(2013)


Vast amounts of molecular data characterizing the genome, epigenome and transcriptome are becoming available for a variety of cancers. The current challenge is to integrate these diverse layers of molecular biology information to create a more comprehensive view of key biological processes underlying cancer. We developed a biocomputational algorithm that integrates copy number, DNA methylation, and gene expression data to study master regulators of cancer and identify their targets. Our algorithm starts by generating a list of candidate driver genes based on the rationale that genes that are driven by multiple genomic events in a subset of samples are unlikely to be randomly deregulated. We then select the master regulators from the candidate driver and identify their targets by inferring the underlying regulatory network of gene expression. We applied our biocomputational algorithm to identify master regulators and their targets in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and serous ovarian cancer. Our results suggest that the expression of candidate drivers is more likely to be influenced by copy number variations than DNA methylation. Next, we selected the master regulators and identified their downstream targets using module networks analysis. As a proof-of-concept, we show that the GBM and ovarian cancer module networks recapitulate known processes in these cancers. In addition, we identify master regulators that have not been previously reported and suggest their likely role. In summary, focusing on genes whose expression can be explained by their genomic and epigenomic aberrations is a promising strategy to identify master regulators of cancer.

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