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1.  Wiring miRNAs to pathways: a topological approach to integrate miRNA and mRNA expression profiles 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(11):e96.
The production rate of gene expression data is nothing less than astounding. However, with the benefit of hindsight we can assert that, since we completely ignored the non-coding part of the transcriptome, we spent the last decade to study cell mechanisms having few data in our hands. In this scenario, microRNAs, which are key post-trascriptional regulators, deserve special attention. Given the state of knowledge about their biogenesis, mechanisms of action and the numerous experimentally validated target genes, miRNAs are also gradually appearing in the formal pathway representations such as KEGG and Reactome maps. However, the number of miRNAs annotated in pathway maps are very few and pathway analyses exploiting this new regulatory layer are still lacking. To fill these gaps, we present ‘micrographite’ a new pipeline to perform topological pathway analysis integrating gene and miRNA expression profiles. Here, micrographite is used to study and dissect the epithelial ovarian cancer gene and miRNA transcriptome defining and validating a new regulatory circuit related to ovarian cancer histotype specificity.
PMCID: PMC4066781  PMID: 24803669
2.  timeClip: pathway analysis for time course data without replicates 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15(Suppl 5):S3.
Time-course gene expression experiments are useful tools for exploring biological processes. In this type of experiments, gene expression changes are monitored along time. Unfortunately, replication of time series is still costly and usually long time course do not have replicates. Many approaches have been proposed to deal with this data structure, but none of them in the field of pathway analysis. Pathway analyses have acquired great relevance for helping the interpretation of gene expression data. Several methods have been proposed to this aim: from the classical enrichment to the more complex topological analysis that gains power from the topology of the pathway. None of them were devised to identify temporal variations in time course data.
Here we present timeClip, a topology based pathway analysis specifically tailored to long time series without replicates. timeClip combines dimension reduction techniques and graph decomposition theory to explore and identify the portion of pathways that is most time-dependent. In the first step, timeClip selects the time-dependent pathways; in the second step, the most time dependent portions of these pathways are highlighted. We used timeClip on simulated data and on a benchmark dataset regarding mouse muscle regeneration model. Our approach shows good performance on different simulated settings. On the real dataset, we identify 76 time-dependent pathways, most of which known to be involved in the regeneration process. Focusing on the 'mTOR signaling pathway' we highlight the timing of key processes of the muscle regeneration: from the early pathway activation through growth factor signals to the late burst of protein production needed for the fiber regeneration.
timeClip represents a new improvement in the field of time-dependent pathway analysis. It allows to isolate and dissect pathways characterized by time-dependent components. Furthermore, using timeClip on a mouse muscle regeneration dataset we were able to characterize the process of muscle fiber regeneration with its correct timing.
PMCID: PMC4095003  PMID: 25077979
3.  Tissue-Specific Expression and Regulatory Networks of Pig MicroRNAome 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e89755.
Despite the economic and medical importance of the pig, knowledge about its genome organization, gene expression regulation, and molecular mechanisms involved in physiological processes is far from that achieved for mouse and rat, the two most used model organisms in biomedical research. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a wide class of molecules that exert a recognized role in gene expression modulation, but only 280 miRNAs in pig have been characterized to date.
We applied a novel computational approach to predict species-specific and conserved miRNAs in the pig genome, which were then subjected to experimental validation. We experimentally identified candidate miRNAs sequences grouped in high-confidence (424) and medium-confidence (353) miRNAs according to RNA-seq results. A group of miRNAs was also validated by PCR experiments. We established the subtle variability in expression of isomiRs and miRNA-miRNA star couples supporting a biological function for these molecules. Finally, miRNA and mRNA expression profiles produced from the same sample of 20 different tissue of the animal were combined, using a correlation threshold to filter miRNA-target predictions, to identify tissue-specific regulatory networks.
Our data represent a significant progress in the current understanding of miRNAome in pig. The identification of miRNAs, their target mRNAs, and the construction of regulatory circuits will provide new insights into the complex biological networks in several tissues of this important animal model.
PMCID: PMC3974652  PMID: 24699212
4.  Systems Biology Approach to the Dissection of the Complexity of Regulatory Networks in the S. scrofa Cardiocirculatory System 
Genome-wide experiments are routinely used to increase the understanding of the biological processes involved in the development and maintenance of a variety of pathologies. Although the technical feasibility of this type of experiment has improved in recent years, data analysis remains challenging. In this context, gene set analysis has emerged as a fundamental tool for the interpretation of the results. Here, we review strategies used in the gene set approach, and using datasets for the pig cardiocirculatory system as a case study, we demonstrate how the use of a combination of these strategies can enhance the interpretation of results. Gene set analyses are able to distinguish vessels from the heart and arteries from veins in a manner that is consistent with the different cellular composition of smooth muscle cells. By integrating microRNA elements in the regulatory circuits identified, we find that vessel specificity is maintained through specific miRNAs, such as miR-133a and miR-143, which show anti-correlated expression with their mRNA targets.
PMCID: PMC3856112  PMID: 24284405
pathway analysis; miRNA; cardiocirculatory; network reconstruction; integrative analysis; pig; artery; vein; vessel
5.  The Antarctic Krill Euphausia superba Shows Diurnal Cycles of Transcription under Natural Conditions 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68652.
Polar environments are characterized by extreme seasonal changes in day length, light intensity and spectrum, the extent of sea ice during the winter, and food availability. A key species of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) has evolved rhythmic physiological and behavioral mechanisms to adapt to daily and seasonal changes. The molecular organization of the clockwork underlying these biological rhythms is, nevertheless, still only partially understood.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The genome sequence of the Antarctic krill is not yet available. A normalized cDNA library was produced and pyrosequenced in the attempt to identify large numbers of transcripts. All available E. superba sequences were then assembled to create the most complete existing oligonucleotide microarray platform with a total of 32,217 probes. Gene expression signatures of specimens collected in the Ross Sea at five different time points over a 24-hour cycle were defined, and 1,308 genes differentially expressed were identified. Of the corresponding transcripts, 609 showed a significant sinusoidal expression pattern; about 40% of these exibithed a 24-hour periodicity while the other 60% was characterized by a shorter (about 12-hour) rhythm. We assigned the differentially expressed genes to functional categories and noticed that those concerning translation, proteolysis, energy and metabolic process, redox regulation, visual transduction and stress response, which are most likely related to daily environmental changes, were significantly enriched. Two transcripts of peroxiredoxin, thought to represent the ancestral timekeeping system that evolved about 2.5 billion years ago, were also identified as were two isoforms of the EsRh1 opsin and two novel arrestin1 sequences involved in the visual transduction cascade.
Our work represents the first characterization of the krill diurnal transcriptome under natural conditions and provides a first insight into the genetic regulation of physiological changes, which occur around the clock during an Antarctic summer day.
PMCID: PMC3714250  PMID: 23874706
6.  Graphite Web: web tool for gene set analysis exploiting pathway topology 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(Web Server issue):W89-W97.
Graphite web is a novel web tool for pathway analyses and network visualization for gene expression data of both microarray and RNA-seq experiments. Several pathway analyses have been proposed either in the univariate or in the global and multivariate context to tackle the complexity and the interpretation of expression results. These methods can be further divided into ‘topological’ and ‘non-topological’ methods according to their ability to gain power from pathway topology. Biological pathways are, in fact, not only gene lists but can be represented through a network where genes and connections are, respectively, nodes and edges. To this day, the most used approaches are non-topological and univariate although they miss the relationship among genes. On the contrary, topological and multivariate approaches are more powerful, but difficult to be used by researchers without bioinformatic skills. Here we present Graphite web, the first public web server for pathway analysis on gene expression data that combines topological and multivariate pathway analyses with an efficient system of interactive network visualizations for easy results interpretation. Specifically, Graphite web implements five different gene set analyses on three model organisms and two pathway databases. Graphite Web is freely available at
PMCID: PMC3977659  PMID: 23666626
7.  Along signal paths: an empirical gene set approach exploiting pathway topology 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;41(1):e19.
Gene set analysis using biological pathways has become a widely used statistical approach for gene expression analysis. A biological pathway can be represented through a graph where genes and their interactions are, respectively, nodes and edges of the graph. From a biological point of view only some portions of a pathway are expected to be altered; however, few methods using pathway topology have been proposed and none of them tries to identify the signal paths, within a pathway, mostly involved in the biological problem. Here, we present a novel algorithm for pathway analysis clipper, that tries to fill in this gap. clipper implements a two-step empirical approach based on the exploitation of graph decomposition into a junction tree to reconstruct the most relevant signal path. In the first step clipper selects significant pathways according to statistical tests on the means and the concentration matrices of the graphs derived from pathway topologies. Then, it identifies within these pathways the signal paths having the greatest association with a specific phenotype. We test our approach on simulated and two real expression datasets. Our results demonstrate the efficacy of clipper in the identification of signal transduction paths totally coherent with the biological problem.
PMCID: PMC3592432  PMID: 23002139
8.  MAGIA2: from miRNA and genes expression data integrative analysis to microRNA–transcription factor mixed regulatory circuits (2012 update) 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W13-W21.
MAGIA2 ( is an update, extension and evolution of the MAGIA web tool. It is dedicated to the integrated analysis of in silico target prediction, microRNA (miRNA) and gene expression data for the reconstruction of post-transcriptional regulatory networks. miRNAs are fundamental post-transcriptional regulators of several key biological and pathological processes. As miRNAs act prevalently through target degradation, their expression profiles are expected to be inversely correlated to those of the target genes. Low specificity of target prediction algorithms makes integration approaches an interesting solution for target prediction refinement. MAGIA2 performs this integrative approach supporting different association measures, multiple organisms and almost all target predictions algorithms. Nevertheless, miRNAs activity should be viewed as part of a more complex scenario where regulatory elements and their interactors generate a highly connected network and where gene expression profiles are the result of different levels of regulation. The updated MAGIA2 tries to dissect this complexity by reconstructing mixed regulatory circuits involving either miRNA or transcription factor (TF) as regulators. Two types of circuits are identified: (i) a TF that regulates both a miRNA and its target and (ii) a miRNA that regulates both a TF and its target.
PMCID: PMC3394337  PMID: 22618880
9.  Analysis of miRNA and mRNA Expression Profiles Highlights Alterations in Ionizing Radiation Response of Human Lymphocytes under Modeled Microgravity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31293.
Ionizing radiation (IR) can be extremely harmful for human cells since an improper DNA-damage response (DDR) to IR can contribute to carcinogenesis initiation. Perturbations in DDR pathway can originate from alteration in the functionality of the microRNA-mediated gene regulation, being microRNAs (miRNAs) small noncoding RNA that act as post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression. In this study we gained insight into the role of miRNAs in the regulation of DDR to IR under microgravity, a condition of weightlessness experienced by astronauts during space missions, which could have a synergistic action on cells, increasing the risk of radiation exposure.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We analyzed miRNA expression profile of human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) incubated for 4 and 24 h in normal gravity (1 g) and in modeled microgravity (MMG) during the repair time after irradiation with 0.2 and 2Gy of γ-rays. Our results show that MMG alters miRNA expression signature of irradiated PBL by decreasing the number of radio-responsive miRNAs. Moreover, let-7i*, miR-7, miR-7-1*, miR-27a, miR-144, miR-200a, miR-598, miR-650 are deregulated by the combined action of radiation and MMG. Integrated analyses of miRNA and mRNA expression profiles, carried out on PBL of the same donors, identified significant miRNA-mRNA anti-correlations of DDR pathway. Gene Ontology analysis reports that the biological category of “Response to DNA damage” is enriched when PBL are incubated in 1 g but not in MMG. Moreover, some anti-correlated genes of p53-pathway show a different expression level between 1 g and MMG. Functional validation assays using luciferase reporter constructs confirmed miRNA-mRNA interactions derived from target prediction analyses.
On the whole, by integrating the transcriptome and microRNome, we provide evidence that modeled microgravity can affects the DNA-damage response to IR in human PBL.
PMCID: PMC3276573  PMID: 22347458
10.  graphite - a Bioconductor package to convert pathway topology to gene network 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:20.
Gene set analysis is moving towards considering pathway topology as a crucial feature. Pathway elements are complex entities such as protein complexes, gene family members and chemical compounds. The conversion of pathway topology to a gene/protein networks (where nodes are a simple element like a gene/protein) is a critical and challenging task that enables topology-based gene set analyses.
Unfortunately, currently available R/Bioconductor packages provide pathway networks only from single databases. They do not propagate signals through chemical compounds and do not differentiate between complexes and gene families.
Here we present graphite, a Bioconductor package addressing these issues. Pathway information from four different databases is interpreted following specific biologically-driven rules that allow the reconstruction of gene-gene networks taking into account protein complexes, gene families and sensibly removing chemical compounds from the final graphs. The resulting networks represent a uniform resource for pathway analyses. Indeed, graphite provides easy access to three recently proposed topological methods. The graphite package is available as part of the Bioconductor software suite.
graphite is an innovative package able to gather and make easily available the contents of the four major pathway databases. In the field of topological analysis graphite acts as a provider of biological information by reducing the pathway complexity considering the biological meaning of the pathway elements.
PMCID: PMC3296647  PMID: 22292714
11.  Impact of Host Genes and Strand Selection on miRNA and miRNA* Expression 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23854.
Dysregulation of miRNAs expression plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of genetic, multifactorial disorders and in human cancers. We exploited sequence, genomic and expression information to investigate two main aspects of post-transcriptional regulation in miRNA biogenesis, namely strand selection regulation and expression relationships between intragenic miRNAs and host genes. We considered miRNAs expression profiles, measured in five sizeable microarray datasets, including samples from different normal cell types and tissues, as well as different tumours and disease states. First, the study of expression profiles of “sister” miRNA pairs (miRNA/miRNA*, 5′ and 3′ strands of the same hairpin precursor) showed that the strand selection is highly regulated since it shows tissue-/cell-/condition-specific modulation. We used information about the direction and the strength of the strand selection bias to perform an unsupervised cluster analysis for the sample classification evidencing that is able to distinguish among different tissues, and sometimes between normal and malignant cells. Then, considering a minimum expression threshold, in few miRNA pairs only one mature miRNA is always present in all considered cell types, whereas the majority of pairs were concurrently expressed in some cell types and alternatively in others. In a significant fraction of concurrently expressed pairs, the major and the minor forms found at comparable levels may contribute to post-transcriptional gene silencing, possibly in a coordinate way. In the second part of the study, the behaved tendency to co-expression of intragenic miRNAs and their “host” mRNA genes was confuted by expression profiles examination, suggesting that the expression profile of a given host gene can hardly be a good estimator of co-transcribed miRNA(s) for post-transcriptional regulatory networks inference. Our results point out the regulatory importance of post-transcriptional phases of miRNAs biogenesis, reinforcing the role of such layer of miRNA biogenesis in miRNA-based regulation of cell activities.
PMCID: PMC3166117  PMID: 21909367
12.  Statistical Test of Expression Pattern (STEPath): a new strategy to integrate gene expression data with genomic information in individual and meta-analysis studies 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:92.
In the last decades, microarray technology has spread, leading to a dramatic increase of publicly available datasets. The first statistical tools developed were focused on the identification of significant differentially expressed genes. Later, researchers moved toward the systematic integration of gene expression profiles with additional biological information, such as chromosomal location, ontological annotations or sequence features. The analysis of gene expression linked to physical location of genes on chromosomes allows the identification of transcriptionally imbalanced regions, while, Gene Set Analysis focuses on the detection of coordinated changes in transcriptional levels among sets of biologically related genes.
In this field, meta-analysis offers the possibility to compare different studies, addressing the same biological question to fully exploit public gene expression datasets.
We describe STEPath, a method that starts from gene expression profiles and integrates the analysis of imbalanced region as an a priori step before performing gene set analysis. The application of STEPath in individual studies produced gene set scores weighted by chromosomal activation. As a final step, we propose a way to compare these scores across different studies (meta-analysis) on related biological issues. One complication with meta-analysis is batch effects, which occur because molecular measurements are affected by laboratory conditions, reagent lots and personnel differences. Major problems occur when batch effects are correlated with an outcome of interest and lead to incorrect conclusions. We evaluated the power of combining chromosome mapping and gene set enrichment analysis, performing the analysis on a dataset of leukaemia (example of individual study) and on a dataset of skeletal muscle diseases (meta-analysis approach).
In leukaemia, we identified the Hox gene set, a gene set closely related to the pathology that other algorithms of gene set analysis do not identify, while the meta-analysis approach on muscular disease discriminates between related pathologies and correlates similar ones from different studies.
STEPath is a new method that integrates gene expression profiles, genomic co-expressed regions and the information about the biological function of genes. The usage of the STEPath-computed gene set scores overcomes batch effects in the meta-analysis approaches allowing the direct comparison of different pathologies and different studies on a gene set activation level.
PMCID: PMC3094239  PMID: 21481242
13.  MAGIA, a web-based tool for miRNA and Genes Integrated Analysis 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(Web Server issue):W352-W359.
MAGIA (miRNA and genes integrated analysis) is a novel web tool for the integrative analysis of target predictions, miRNA and gene expression data. MAGIA is divided into two parts: the query section allows the user to retrieve and browse updated miRNA target predictions computed with a number of different algorithms (PITA, miRanda and Target Scan) and Boolean combinations thereof. The analysis section comprises a multistep procedure for (i) direct integration through different functional measures (parametric and non-parametric correlation indexes, a variational Bayesian model, mutual information and a meta-analysis approach based on P-value combination) of mRNA and miRNA expression data, (ii) construction of bipartite regulatory network of the best miRNA and mRNA putative interactions and (iii) retrieval of information available in several public databases of genes, miRNAs and diseases and via scientific literature text-mining. MAGIA is freely available for Academic users at
PMCID: PMC2896126  PMID: 20484379
14.  Impact of probe annotation on the integration of miRNA–mRNA expression profiles for miRNA target detection 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(7):e97.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that mediate gene expression at the post-transcriptional and translational levels by an imperfect binding to target mRNA 3′UTR regions. While the ab-initio computational prediction of miRNA–mRNA interactions still poses significant challenges, it is possible to overcome some of its limitations by carefully integrating into the analysis the paired expression profiles of miRNAs and mRNAs. In this work, we show how the choice of a proper probe annotation for microarray platforms is an essential requirement to achieve good sensitivity in the identification of miRNA–mRNA interactions. We compare the results obtained from the analysis of the same expression profiles using both gene and transcript based custom CDFs that we have developed for a number of different annotations (ENSEMBL, RefSeq, AceView). In all cases, transcript-based annotations clearly improve the effectiveness of data integration and thus provide a more reliable confirmation of computationally predicted miRNA–mRNA interactions.
PMCID: PMC2853140  PMID: 20071740

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