Conventional differential expression analyses have been successfully employed to identify genes whose levels change across experimental conditions. One limitation of this approach is the inability to discover central regulators that control gene expression networks. In addition, while methods for identifying central nodes in a network are widely implemented, the bioinformatics validation process and the theoretical error estimates that reflect the uncertainty in each step of the analysis are rarely considered. Using the betweenness centrality measure, we identified Etv5 as a potential tissue-level regulator in murine neurofibromatosis type 1 (Nf1) low-grade brain tumors (optic gliomas). As such, the expression of Etv5 and Etv5 target genes were increased in multiple independently-generated mouse optic glioma models relative to non-neoplastic (normal healthy) optic nerves, as well as in the cognate human tumors (pilocytic astrocytoma) relative to normal human brain. Importantly, differential Etv5 and Etv5 network expression was not directly the result of Nf1 gene dysfunction in specific cell types, but rather reflects a property of the tumor as an aggregate tissue. Moreover, this differential Etv5 expression was independently validated at the RNA and protein levels. Taken together, the combined use of network analysis, differential RNA expression findings, and experimental validation highlights the potential of the computational network approach to provide new insights into tumor biology.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0190001
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018


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