Predicting Perturbation Patterns from the Topology of Biological Networks
High-throughput technologies, offering an unprecedented wealth of quantitative data underlying the makeup of living systems, are changing biology. Notably, the systematic mapping of the relationships between biochemical entities has fueled the rapid development of network biology, offering a suitable framework to describe disease phenotypes and predict potential drug targets. However, our ability to develop accurate dynamical models remains limited, due in part to the limited knowledge of the kinetic parameters underlying these interactions. Here, we explore the degree to which we can make reasonably accurate predictions in the absence of the kinetic parameters. We find that simple dynamically agnostic models are sufficient to recover the strength and sign of the biochemical perturbation patterns observed in 87 biological models for which the underlying kinetics are known. Surprisingly, a simple distance-based model achieves 65% accuracy. We show that this predictive power is robust to topological and kinetic parameter perturbations, and we identify key network properties that can increase up to 80% the recovery rate of the true perturbation patterns. We validate our approach using experimental data on the chemotactic pathway in bacteria, finding that a network model of perturbation spreading predicts with ∼80% accuracy the directionality of gene expression and phenotype changes in knock-out and overproduction experiments. These findings show that the steady advances in mapping out the topology of biochemical interaction networks opens avenues for accurate perturbation spread modeling, with direct implications for medicine and drug development.