Motivation

Dynamical properties of biochemical pathways (BPs) help in understanding the functioning of living cells. Their in silico assessment requires simulating a dynamical system with a large number of parameters such as kinetic constants and species concentrations. Such simulations are based on numerical methods that can be time-expensive for large BPs. Moreover, parameters are often unknown and need to be estimated.

Results

We developed a framework for the prediction of dynamical properties of BPs directly from the structure of their graph representation. We represent BPs as Petri nets, which can be automatically generated, for instance, from standard SBML representations. The core of the framework is a neural network for graphs that extracts relevant information directly from the Petri net structure and exploits them to learn the association with the desired dynamical property. We show experimentally that the proposed approach reliably predicts a range of diverse dynamical properties (robustness, monotonicity, and sensitivity) while being faster than numerical methods at prediction time. In synergy with the neural network models, we propose a methodology based on Petri nets arc knock-out that allows the role of each molecule in the occurrence of a certain dynamical property to be better elucidated. The methodology also provides insights useful for interpreting the predictions made by the model. The results support the conjecture often considered in the context of systems biology that the BP structure plays a primary role in the assessment of its dynamical properties.

Availability and implementation

https://github.com/marcopodda/petri-bio (code), https://zenodo.org/record/7610382 (data).

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