Efficient Bayesian estimates for discrimination among topologically different systems biology models†
A major effort in systems biology is the development of mathematical models that describe complex biological systems at multiple scales and levels of abstraction. Determining the topology—the set of interactions—of a biological system from observations of the system's behavior is an important and difficult problem. Here we present and demonstrate new methodology for efficiently computing the probability distribution over a set of topologies based on consistency with existing measurements. Key features of the new approach include derivation in a Bayesian framework, incorporation of prior probability distributions of topologies and parameters, and use of an analytically integrable linearization based on the Fisher information matrix that is responsible for large gains in efficiency. The new method was demonstrated on a collection of four biological topologies representing a kinase and phosphatase that operate in opposition to each other with either processive or distributive kinetics, giving 8–12 parameters for each topology. The linearization produced an approximate result very rapidly (CPU minutes) that was highly accurate on its own, as compared to a Monte Carlo method guaranteed to converge to the correct answer but at greater cost (CPU weeks). The Monte Carlo method developed and applied here used the linearization method as a starting point and importance sampling to approach the Bayesian answer in acceptable time. Other inexpensive methods to estimate probabilities produced poor approximations for this system, with likelihood estimation showing its well-known bias toward topologies with more parameters and the Akaike and Schwarz Information Criteria showing a strong bias toward topologies with fewer parameters. These results suggest that this linear approximation may be an effective compromise, providing an answer whose accuracy is near the true Bayesian answer, but at a cost near the common heuristics.