Condition-specific gene co-expression network mining identifies key pathways and regulators in the brain tissue of Alzheimer's disease patients

Shunian Xiang, Zhi Huang, Tianfu Wang, Zhi Han, Christina Y. Yu, Dong Ni, Kun Huang, Jie Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Background: Gene co-expression network (GCN) mining is a systematic approach to efficiently identify novel disease pathways, predict novel gene functions and search for potential disease biomarkers. However, few studies have systematically identified GCNs in multiple brain transcriptomic data of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients and looked for their specific functions. Methods: In this study, we first mined GCN modules from AD and normal brain samples in multiple datasets respectively; then identified gene modules that are specific to AD or normal samples; lastly, condition-specific modules with similar functional enrichments were merged and enriched differentially expressed upstream transcription factors were further examined for the AD/normal-specific modules. Results: We obtained 30 AD-specific modules which showed gain of correlation in AD samples and 31 normal-specific modules with loss of correlation in AD samples compared to normal ones, using the network mining tool lmQCM. Functional and pathway enrichment analysis not only confirmed known gene functional categories related to AD, but also identified novel regulatory factors and pathways. Remarkably, pathway analysis suggested that a variety of viral, bacteria, and parasitic infection pathways are activated in AD samples. Furthermore, upstream transcription factor analysis identified differentially expressed upstream regulators such as ZFHX3 for several modules, which can be potential driver genes for AD etiology and pathology. Conclusions: Through our state-of-the-art network-based approach, AD/normal-specific GCN modules were identified using multiple transcriptomic datasets from multiple regions of the brain. Bacterial and viral infectious disease related pathways are the most frequently enriched in modules across datasets. Transcription factor ZFHX3 was identified as a potential driver regulator targeting the infectious diseases pathways in AD-specific modules. Our results provided new direction to the mechanism of AD as well as new candidates for drug targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115
JournalBMC Medical Genomics
StatePublished - Dec 31 2018


  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Bacterial and viral infectious pathway
  • Co-expression
  • Condition-specific module

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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