Background: Inverse modelling of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) capable of simulating continuous spatio-temporal biological processes requires accurate data and a good description of the system. If quantitative relations between genes cannot be extracted from direct measurements, an efficient method to estimate the unknown parameters is mandatory. A model that has been proposed to simulate spatio-temporal gene expression patterns is the connectionist model. This method describes the quantitative dynamics of a regulatory network in space. The model parameters are estimated by means of model-fitting algorithms. The gene interactions are identified without making any prior assumptions concerning the network connectivity. As a result, the inverse modelling might lead to multiple circuits showing the same quantitative behaviour and it is not possible to identify one optimal circuit. Consequently, it is important to address the quality of the circuits in terms of model robustness. Results: Here we investigate the sensitivity and robustness of circuits obtained from reverse engineering a model capable of simulating measured gene expression patterns. As a case study we use the early gap gene segmentation mechanism in Drosophila melanogaster. We consider the limitations of the connectionist model used to describe GRN Inferred from spatio-temporal gene expression. We address the problem of circuit discrimination, where the selection criterion within the optimization technique is based of the least square minimization on the error between data and simulated results. Conclusion: Parameter sensitivity analysis allows one to discriminate between circuits having significant parameter and qualitative differences but exhibiting the same quantitative pattern. Furthermore, we show that using a stochastic model derived from a deterministic solution, one can introduce fluctuations within the model to analyze the circuits' robustness. Ultimately, we show that there is a close relation between circuit sensitivity and robustness to fluctuation, and that circuit robustness is rather modular than global. The current study shows that reverse engineering of GRNs should not only focus on estimating parameters by minimizing the difference between observation and simulation but also on other model properties. Our study suggests that multi-objective optimization based on robustness and sensitivity analysis has to be considered. ? 2009 Fomekong-Nanfack et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Fomekong-Nanfack, Y., Postma, M., & Kaandorp, J. A. (2009). Inferring Drosophila gap gene regulatory network: A parameter sensitivity and perturbation analysis. BMC Systems Biology, 3, 94. https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-0509-3-94