BACKGROUND: Gene regulation and metabolic reactions are two primary activities of life. Although many works have been dedicated to study each system, the coupling between them is less well understood. To bridge this gap, we propose a joint model of gene regulation and metabolic reactions. RESULTS: We integrate regulatory and metabolic networks by adding links specifying the feedback control from the substrates of metabolic reactions to enzyme gene expressions. We adopt two alternative approaches to build those links: inferring the links between metabolites and transcription factors to fit the data or explicitly encoding the general hypotheses of feedback control as links between metabolites and enzyme expressions. A perturbation data is explained by paths in the joint network if the predicted response along the paths is consistent with the observed response. The consistency requirement for explaining the perturbation data imposes constraints on the attributes in the network such as the functions of links and the activities of paths. We build a probabilistic graphical model over the attributes to specify these constraints, and apply an inference algorithm to identify the attribute values which optimally explain the data. The inferred models allow us to 1) identify the feedback links between metabolites and regulators and their functions, 2) identify the active paths responsible for relaying perturbation effects, 3) computationally test the general hypotheses pertaining to the feedback control of enzyme expressions, 4) evaluate the advantage of an integrated model over separate systems. CONCLUSION: The modeling results provide insight about the mechanisms of the coupling between the two systems and possible "design rules" pertaining to enzyme gene regulation. The model can be used to investigate the less well-probed systems and generate consistent hypotheses and predictions for further validation.
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