Incorporating prior information into differential network analysis using non-paranormal graphical models

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Understanding how gene regulatory networks change under different cellular states is important for revealing insights into network dynamics. Gaussian graphical models, which assume that the data follow a joint normal distribution, have been used recently to infer differential networks. However, the distributions of the omics data are non-normal in general. Furthermore, although much biological knowledge (or prior information) has been accumulated, most existing methods ignore the valuable prior information. Therefore, new statistical methods are needed to relax the normality assumption and make full use of prior information.


We propose a new differential network analysis method to address the above challenges. Instead of using Gaussian graphical models, we employ a non-paranormal graphical model that can relax the normality assumption. We develop a principled model to take into account the following prior information: (i) a differential edge less likely exists between two genes that do not participate together in the same pathway; (ii) changes in the networks are driven by certain regulator genes that are perturbed across different cellular states and (iii) the differential networks estimated from multi-view gene expression data likely share common structures. Simulation studies demonstrate that our method outperforms other graphical model-based algorithms. We apply our method to identify the differential networks between platinum-sensitive and platinum-resistant ovarian tumors, and the differential networks between the proneural and mesenchymal subtypes of glioblastoma. Hub nodes in the estimated differential networks rediscover known cancer-related regulator genes and contain interesting predictions.

Availability and Implementation:

The source code is at


Supplementary information:

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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