Applicability of Computational Systems Biology in Toxicology

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Abstract

Systems biology as a research field has emerged within the last few decades. Systems biology, often defined as the antithesis of the reductionist approach, integrates information about individual components of a biological system. In integrative systems biology, large data sets from various sources and databases are used to model and predict effects of chemicals on, for instance, human health. In toxicology, computational systems biology enables identification of important pathways and molecules from large data sets; tasks that can be extremely laborious when performed by a classical literature search. However, computational systems biology offers more advantages than providing a high-throughput literature search; it may form the basis for establishment of hypotheses on potential links between environmental chemicals and human diseases, which would be very difficult to establish experimentally. This is possible due to the existence of comprehensive databases containing information on networks of human protein–protein interactions and protein–disease associations. Experimentally determined targets of the specific chemical of interest can be fed into these networks to obtain additional information that can be used to establish hypotheses on links between the chemical and human diseases. Such information can also be applied for designing more intelligent animal/cell experiments that can test the established hypotheses. Here, we describe how and why to apply an integrative systems biology method in the hypothesis-generating phase of toxicological research.

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