Module-detection approaches for the integration of multilevel omics data highlight the comprehensive response of Aspergillus fumigatus to caspofungin
Background Omics data provide deep insights into overall biological processes of organisms. However, integration of data from different molecular levels such as transcriptomics and proteomics, still remains challenging. Analyzing lists of differentially abundant molecules from diverse molecular levels often results in a small overlap mainly due to different regulatory mechanisms, temporal scales, and/or inherent properties of measurement methods. Module-detecting algorithms identifying sets of closely related proteins from protein-protein interaction networks (PPINs) are promising approaches for a better data integration. Results Here, we made use of transcriptome, proteome and secretome data from the human pathogenic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus challenged with the antifungal drug caspofungin. Caspofungin targets the fungal cell wall which leads to a compensatory stress response. We analyzed the omics data using two different approaches: First, we applied a simple, classical approach by comparing lists of differentially expressed genes (DEGs), differentially synthesized proteins (DSyPs) and differentially secreted proteins (DSePs); second, we used a recently published module-detecting approach, ModuleDiscoverer, to identify regulatory modules from PPINs in conjunction with the experimental data. Our results demonstrate that regulatory modules show a notably higher overlap between the different molecular levels and time points than the classical approach. The additional structural information provided by regulatory modules allows for topological analyses. As a result, we detected a significant association of omics data with distinct biological processes such as regulation of kinase activity, transport mechanisms or amino acid metabolism. We also found a previously unreported increased production of the secondary metabolite fumagillin by A. fumigatus upon exposure to caspofungin. Furthermore, a topology-based analysis of potential key factors contributing to drug-caused side effects identified the highly conserved protein polyubiquitin as a central regulator. Interestingly, polyubiquitin UbiD neither belonged to the groups of DEGs, DSyPs nor DSePs but most likely strongly influenced their levels. Conclusion Module-detecting approaches support the effective integration of multilevel omics data and provide a deep insight into complex biological relationships connecting these levels. They facilitate the identification of potential key players in the organism’s stress response which cannot be detected by commonly used approaches comparing lists of differentially abundant molecules.