Generating Ensembles of Gene Regulatory Networks to Assess Robustness of Disease Modules

James T. Lim, Chen Chen, Adam D. Grant, Megha Padi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The use of biological networks such as protein–protein interaction and transcriptional regulatory networks is becoming an integral part of genomics research. However, these networks are not static, and during phenotypic transitions like disease onset, they can acquire new “communities” (or highly interacting groups) of genes that carry out cellular processes. Disease communities can be detected by maximizing a modularity-based score, but since biological systems and network inference algorithms are inherently noisy, it remains a challenge to determine whether these changes represent real cellular responses or whether they appeared by random chance. Here, we introduce Constrained Random Alteration of Network Edges (CRANE), a method for randomizing networks with fixed node strengths. CRANE can be used to generate a null distribution of gene regulatory networks that can in turn be used to rank the most significant changes in candidate disease communities. Compared to other approaches, such as consensus clustering or commonly used generative models, CRANE emulates biologically realistic networks and recovers simulated disease modules with higher accuracy. When applied to breast and ovarian cancer networks, CRANE improves the identification of cancer-relevant GO terms while reducing the signal from non-specific housekeeping processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number603264
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
StatePublished - Jan 14 2021


  • cancer
  • community detection
  • community robustness
  • community significance
  • community structure
  • network
  • network community
  • regulatory network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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