Synergistic drug combinations provide huge potentials to enhance therapeutic efficacy and to reduce adverse reactions. However, effective and synergistic drug combination prediction remains an open question because of the unknown causal disease signaling pathways. Though various deep learning (AI) models have been proposed to quantitatively predict the synergism of drug combinations, the major limitation of existing deep learning methods is that they are inherently not interpretable, which makes the conclusions of AI models untransparent to human experts, henceforth limiting the robustness of the model conclusion and the implementation ability of these models in real-world human–AI healthcare. In this paper, we develop an interpretable graph neural network (GNN) that reveals the underlying essential therapeutic targets and the mechanism of the synergy (MoS) by mining the sub-molecular network of great importance. The key point of the interpretable GNN prediction model is a novel graph pooling layer, a self-attention-based node and edge pool (henceforth SANEpool), that can compute the attention score (importance) of genes and connections based on the genomic features and topology. As such, the proposed GNN model provides a systematic way to predict and interpret the drug combination synergism based on the detected crucial sub-molecular network. Experiments on various well-adopted drug-synergy-prediction datasets demonstrate that (1) the SANEpool model has superior predictive ability to generate accurate synergy score prediction, and (2) the sub-molecular networks detected by the SANEpool are self-explainable and salient for identifying synergistic drug combinations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4210
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • drug response prediction
  • graph neural networks
  • interpretability


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