Perturbing metabolic systems of bioactive sphingolipids with genetic approachMultiple types of “omics” data collected from the systemSystems approach for integrating multiple “omics” informationPredicting signal transduction information flow: lipid; TF activation; gene expression
In contemporary biomedical research, gene mutation remains the most powerful and commonly used tool in molecular and systems biology for perturbation and dissection of biological systems. However, as biological systems consist of highly connected networks, for example, metabolic networks or signal transduction networks, perturbing one portion could result in widely spread effects across the network. Such ‘ripple effects' in systems pose a challenge to the paradigm of investigating the role of a metabolite through mutating enzymes required for its production. In this study, we have developed a systems biology approach that integrates different types of ‘-omics' data to identify signal transduction pathways involving spingolipids and gene expression. See Figure 1 for an overall scheme of our approaches.
Sphingolipids are a family of bioactive lipids that have important signaling functions in cells; in yeast, de novo synthesis is required to mediate the cell response to heat shock. We hypothesized that a specific sphingolipid, phyto-sphingosine-1-phosphate (PHS1P), functions as a signaling molecule in the heat stress response (HSR) because, though its mammalian counterparts are known to have important signaling roles, the function of this metabolite in yeast remains unknown. To identify a putative role of PHS1P in the HSR, we deleted the genes involved in production (LCB4 and LCB5) and degradation (DPL1) of PHS1P to perturb its levels in cells. In wild-type cells, heat shock induces a significant increase in PHS1P. Over the same course, expression of over a thousand genes was modulated.
While deleting the genes involved in PHS1P metabolism ‘clamped' the PHS1P concentration as expected, these mutations also resulted in wide spread changes in many sphingolipids in addition to PHS1P. This ‘ripple effect' prevented direct identification of signaling role of PHS1P in gene expression. We overcame this difficulty by using a set of systems approaches as follows: (1) identifying the information between levels of each individual sphingolipid species and gene expression through combining correlation analysis and clustering; (2) identifying the putative PHS1P-sensitive subset of genes by analyzing the results from step 1; (3) identifying transcription factors (TFs) that potentially regulate these PHS1P-sensitive genes thought promoter analysis; (4) modeling the activation states of the TFs by combining gene expression data and promoter sequence data; and finally, (5) modeling the relationship between sphingolipids and activation of TFs.
Our study showed that 441 genes were differentially expressed in the lcb4Δ/lcb5Δ strain in comparison to wild-type strain; however, only 77 genes among them showed a significant correlation with respect to PHS1P, with 22 genes positively correlated and 54 genes negatively correlated. The results led to a hypothesis that the genes showing significant correlation were PHS1P sensitive whereas differential expression of other genes resulted from the compounding ‘ripple effects' of the gene deletions. We tested this hypothesis by directly treating cells with PHS1P and monitoring the expression levels of the genes that were PHS1P sensitive and PHS1P insensitive, and the results showed that the expression of PHS1P-sensitive genes indeed changed in response to the treatment whereas others did not. We developed a statistical model referred to as Bayesian transcription factor state model to infer activation states of TFs in cells under a specific condition based on the genomic information and gene expression data. We then used a Bayesian logistic regression to further model the relationship between the lipid concentrations and activation states of the TFs. Combined TF enrichment analysis and TF state modeling indicated that the HAP TF complex was likely responding to the signal from PHS1P and mediating the regulation of PHS1P-sensitive genes. We tested this hypothesis by treating wild type and a strain of yeast with deletion of HAP4 gene (hap4Δ), a component of the HAP complex, with PHS1P and monitoring the expression of PHS1P-sensitive genes. Indeed, the PHS1P induced the genes in the wild-type strain but not in hap4Δ, thus indicating that induction of the PHS1P-sensitive genes required a functioning HAP complex (see Figure 5 ).
In summary, our experiments demonstrated that, though gene mutation remains one of the most powerful tools to perturb biological systems, the high connectivity of biological systems poses a challenge for using this approach to identify signaling roles of bioactive metabolites. Here, we demonstrated combining the information from multiple types of ‘-omics' data using systems approaches, it is possible to circumvent these difficulties and reveal novel signal transduction pathways.
Sphingolipids including sphingosine-1-phosphate and ceramide participate in numerous cell programs through signaling mechanisms. This class of lipids has important functions in stress responses; however, determining which sphingolipid mediates specific events has remained encumbered by the numerous metabolic interconnections of sphingolipids, such that modulating a specific lipid of interest through manipulating metabolic enzymes causes ‘ripple effects', which change levels of many other lipids. Here, we develop a method of integrative analysis for genomic, transcriptomic, and lipidomic data to address this previously intractable problem. This method revealed a specific signaling role for phytosphingosine-1-phosphate, a lipid with no previously defined specific function in yeast, in regulating genes required for mitochondrial respiration through the HAP complex transcription factor. This approach could be applied to extract meaningful biological information from a similar experimental design that produces multiple sets of high-throughput data.