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Title: Finding all steady states in biological regulatory networks
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Title: Finding all steady states in biological regulatory networks
Alternate Title: Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering Technical Report
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Language: English
Creator: Ay, Ferhat
Xu, Fei
Kahvevi, Tamer
Publisher: Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009
Copyright Date: 2009
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Vol. 00 no. 00 2009
Pages 1-11

Finding All Steady States in Biological Regulatory Networks

Ferhat Ay, Fei Xu, and Tamer Kahveci
Computer and Information Science and Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611
{fay, feixu, tamer}

Motivation. Computing the long term behavior of regulatory and
signaling networks is critical in understanding how biological functions
take place in organisms. Steady states of these networks determine
the activity levels of individual entities in the long run. Identifying all
the steady states of these networks is difficult as it suffers from the
state space explosion problem.
Results. In this paper, we propose a method for identifying all the
steady states of regulatory and signaling networks accurately and
efficiently. We build a mathematical model that allows pruning a
large portion of the state space quickly without causing any false
dismissals. For the remaining state space, which is typically very
small compared to the whole state space, we develop a randomized
algorithm that extracts the steady states. This algorithm estimates
the number of steady states, and the expected behaviors of individual
genes and gene pairs in steady states in an online fashion. Also, we
formulate a stopping criteria that terminates the randomized algorithm
as soon as user supplied percentage of the results are returned with
high confidence. Finally, in order to maintain the scalability of our
algorithm to very large networks, we develop a partitioning-based
estimation strategy. We show that our algorithm can identify all the
steady states accurately. Furthermore, our experiments demonstrate
that our method is scalable to virtually any large real biological
Availability. All the code developed for this paper is available at

Analyzing biological networks is essential in understanding the
machinery of living organisms which has been a main goal for
scientists. We use the term biological regulatory networks (BRN)
to combine gene regulatory networks and signal transduction
pathways. To capture the biological meaning of BRNs, it is
necessary to characterize their long term behavior. A common way
to achieve this is to identify the steady states of the dynamic system
defined by BRNs. A state shows the activity levels of genes at a
certain time point. The state of a BRN can change over the time due
to internal regulations or external stimulants. We .i,. ., i.i.le of a
BRN is steady if that state will periodically be revisited forever once
the BRN reaches to that state (see Figures 2 (a) and (b)). In other
words, the steady states represent the possible long term outcomes
of the corresponding BRN. Identification of steady states is a crucial
problem and is useful in many applications such as the treatment
of various human cancers [12] (e.g. leukemia, glioblastoma) and

genetic engineering [21]. In this paper we consider the problem of
identification of all steady states in BRNs.
The naive approach to this problem is to exhaustively search
the state space for the steady states. However, the number of
possible states of a BRN is exponential in the number of its
genes. For a BRN with n genes, the state space size is 2"
for the boolean state model. Therefore, exhaustive methods are
computationally infeasible for even moderate sized BRNs. To
address this problem, some existing methods use finite-state Markov
chains [10], binary decision diagrams (BDD) [9], constraint
programming [6], probabilistic boolean networks [24] and relational
programming [22]. Orthogonal to the selection of the above method,
there are two options for modeling the state transitions. These
are synchronous and asynchronous models and both are used in
the literature. Synchronous model assumes that the activity levels
of all the genes change simultaneously. Hence, the next state
is deterministically decided by the current state. On the other
hand, asynchronous model assumes that the time is divided into
small enough intervals, such that only one gene can change its
state at a time and state change is equally likely for all genes.
The advantages/disadvantages of these models together with their
effect on running time of steady state identification algorithms are
discussed in several papers in the literature [1, 2, 8]. Here, we use
the asynchronous model in our algorithm discussion since it allows
the identification of an important type of steady states, namely cyclic
steady states. However, it is important to point out that our method
is independent of the choice of state transition model.

Garg et al. [9] proposed one of
the most recent methods to identify
the steady states of BRNs. They
use the boolean network model for
BRNs. They represent the state
space using the BDD data structure.
Their algorithm, however, fails to
classify a significant percentage of
the states correctly. Here, we present
a brief example on a real sub-network
given in Figure 1 to illustrate the
problems of this method of Garg et al.
(Detailed evaluation of this method
is in Section 4.2.) For this 6 gene
sub-network of human p53 signaling
pathway, Garg et al.'s method finds
four steady states. The sets of
active genes in these steady states


pl4ARF p3


Fig. 1: A portion of p53
signaling pathway, p53
pathway plays an important
role in the origination of
different cancer types.
Pointed arrow heads
represent positive regulation
(activation) and arrow heads
with bars represent negative
regulation (inhibition).

( Oxford University Press 2009. 1

Ay et al

are: {MDM2, MDMX}, {MDM2},
{MDMX} and 0. In order to evaluate
the accuracy of their results, we surveyed the literature on p53
network and extracted its steady states. We observed that the first
three states reported above by their algorithm are not steady (i.e.
they are false negatives). Also, their method fails to find the steady
states corresponding to oscillations) between p53 and MDM2
levels (false negatives) that are observed in the literature [4, 14].
Finally, the running time of their method grows quickly as the
complexity or the size of the underlying BRN increases.
Our Contributions: In this paper, we develop an algorithm that
identifies all the steady states of BRNs accurately and efficiently.
We use the boolean network model proposed by Kauffman et al [13]
due to its parallelism with the level of currently available data and
its successful applications on real data sets [7, 16]. We build a
h'.p state transition graph using the interactions in a BRN.
We develop a mathematical model that classifies each state into one
of the three classes, namely Type 0, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 0
and Type 2 states are guaranteed to be steady and transient (i.e.
not steady), respectively. Type 1 states can be either one. We use
BDDs to partition the states into these classes efficiently. To further
classify the Type 1 states, we develop a randomized algorithm.
While sampling, we calculate the estimators for the number of
steady states, expected steady state distribution of individual genes
and joint-steady state distributions of gene pairs. We calculate a
stopping criteria from the statistical information of explored states.
This criteria allows early termination of sampling when the user
defined percentage of steady states are found with high confidence.
To make our algorithm scalable to large BRNs, we incorporate
a partitioning strategy. Our partitioning strategy works for both
disconnected and weakly connected sub-networks without losing
steady state information. In summary, our technical contributions
We build a mathematical model for pruning a very large portion
of state space quickly without any information loss.
We develop a randomized algorithm that computes estimators
for the number of steady states and the fraction of individual genes
and gene pairs being active in these states in an online fashion.
Our algorithm guarantees to find all the steady states after sufficient
number of iterations.
We develop a partitioning-based strategy to utilize the weak
connectivity of BRNs.
The organization of the rest of this paper is as follows: Section 2
presents the background information. Section 3 discusses our
methods. Section 4 presents the experimental results. Section 5
2"nct tPIOjND
In order to find the long term behavior of BRNs, a dynamic model
should be used to express the state changes. Here, we describe how
the dynamic behavior of BRNs are modeled. First, we define a state
and a steady state of a BRN. Then, we discuss the existing methods
and models for identification of steady states in dynamic biological
Assume that a BRN
has n genes. A state

of this BRN consists
of activity levels of
individual genes. We
represent the state of
the ith gene by Xi =
1 (active) or Xi = 0
(inhibited). The state
of that BRN is denoted
as [X1X2 ...Xn]. A
set of genes alters the
state of another gene
set if the first set has
activators or the suppressors
of the genes in the
second set. Figure 2
shows how the state
of a BRN changes for
three hypothetical BRNs.
A steady state in the
state transition graph is
a state in which the
system stabilizes. This stability is achieved at a state either if none
of the genes issue a change in their activity levels or if there is only
one possible chain of state transitions from the current state which
deterministically leads to the same state after a certain number of
state transitions. In other words, once the state transitions lead to a
steady state the probability of revisiting this state through a fixed
sequence of states is 1. Thus, the steady states reflect the long
term behavior of the biological system. We call all the remaining
states transient. For example, consider the states of the BRN in
Figure 2(a). Here, the state [110] is steady as the BRN remains in
that state forever once it reaches to that state. The BRN shown in
Figure 2(b) has four steady states, namely [011], [111], [110] and
[010]. This is because the BRN deterministically visits these states
in cycle forever once it reaches to one of them. We call these type of
steady states "cyclic steady states". On the other hand, all the states
in Figure 2(c) are transient. The reason is that once the state [110]
is reached, it is impossible to know which path will be taken before
revisiting [110].
Existing work on steady state identification: The trivial way
to identify all the steady states is to analyze the whole state
transition graph exhaustively. However, the size of this graph grows
exponentially with the number of genes in the BRN. Therefore,
enumeration of all the states is not practical and efficient methods
are necessary.
A number of methods have been developed to find the steady
states of BRNs. Devloo et al. [6] used generalized logical
analysis [29] together with constraint programming for this purpose.
They introduced an image function to traverse the state transition
graph by utilizing the logical parameters described in Snoussi et
al.[26]. However, their algorithm does not work for networks
containing multiple arcs of same weight from the same origin.
Since networks with multiple arcs of same weight from the same
origin are common [17], this limitation restricts the applicability of

Oil 1io

-- 111 J010 0


%__ - _=0 --- .A i-

their algorithm. Using the Probabilistic Boolean Network Model,
Shmulevich et al.[25] calculated the steady state probabilities
of genes via random gene perturbations. However, they don't
distinguish between different interaction types such as activations
and inhibitions. Ignoring the type of interactions in the modeling
phase degrades the accuracy of their algorithm from the very
beginning. Shlomi et al. [23] used linear programming to extract the
steady states after gene perturbations. However, their method cannot
find the cyclic steady states in BRNs. Recently, Schaub et al.[22]
proposed an extension of boolean network model called Qualitative
Networks and analyzed signaling networks by symbolic methods.
They identified the infinitely visited states of multicellular systems
by using relational computation tools. However, their idea of using
partitioned transition relations to speed up the algorithm is not valid
for single cell model.
To the best of our knowledge, the most recent algorithm for
identification of all steady states of biological regulatory networks
is proposed by Garg et al. [9]. They used boolean network model to
represent the regulatory networks and BDD data structure for the
representation of its state space. This method, however, incurs both
false positives and false negatives (see the example in Section 1).
Furthermore, its running time increases quickly as the complexity
and the size of the BRN increases. We evaluate this algorithm in
detail in Section 4.2.

This section discusses our algorithm for identifying all the steady
states of BRNs. Section 3.1 describes the mathematical model for
expressing the states of a BRN. Section 3.2 discusses the strategy
we use to split the search space into three subspaces. Section 3.3
presents our randomized algorithm for extracting steady states
from the third subset above. Section 3.5 discusses our partitioning
strategy to accelerate our algorithm.

3.1 State Transition Model
In order to identify the steady states of a BRN, we first need to build
a mathematical model that explains its states and how the network
moves from one state to another.
Let Xi(t) = true/false denote the state of the ith gene at time
t. Here true denotes that ith gene is "active" and false denotes that
it is "inactive". We use Xi instead of Xi (t) for simplicity wherever
We summarize the interactions that determine the next state of
the ith gene from the activity values at time t as follows. The ith
gene will be inhibited if at least one of its suppressors is active. If
all the suppressors of the ith gene are inactive and at least one of
its activators is active, then it becomes active in the next time step.
The assumption that inhibitors are stronger is due to the binding
mechanism of inhibitors. In all other situations the state of the ith
gene remains unchanged. The following equation summarizes this
Xi(t + 1) : (Xi(t) V PA(t)) A ps(t) (1)
In this equation, the symbols V and A denote the logical "AND"
and "OR" operators, pA(t) and ps(t) represent predicates for the
activators and the suppressors of the ith gene at time t, respectively.

Finding All Steady States in Biological Regulatory Networks

We compute these predicates as PA (t) V A Xj (t) and ps (t)
Vjcs X (t), where A and S are the sets of indices for activators
and the suppressors of the ith gene.
EXAMPLE 1. Consider the BRN in Fi. ... 1. Assume that E2F1
and ATR are the only active genes at some point in time. E2F1 will
activate pl4ARF and ATR will activate p53. When p53 becomes
active, it will suppress pl4ARF even when E2F1 remains active, p53
will also activate MDM2, whose activity will then suppress p53. E
It is worth mentioning that our model uses boolean values for the
states of the genes since it is successfully used in the literature for
BRNs [7, 16]. The method we develop in this paper is independent
of this choice. It can be used for categorical state model, where
the state of a gene can have more than two activity levels (e.g.
low, medium, high activity) and more complex predicates for

Type 1

Type 0

steady transient

Fig. 3: Summary of the traversal process for a randomly picked state
from unobserved Type 1 states. The unobserved state is either a
steady state as shown with f or a transient state as shown with a. In
the latter case, the traversal may take different paths before labeling
a as transient. In both cases, all the states on traversed paths are also
labeled as steady or transient.

An important observation is that, even though the next state of the
ith gene is deterministically calculated, there can be multiple next
states for the whole network since we use asynchronous model. A
state of a given BRN is defined by the states of individual genes.
Let u [X1i .. X1] denote a state of the network. The network
can move from state u to state v [X ... X-1 -X, Xi+ ...
X.] only if the ith gene is one of the genes that can have a state
change. Individual genes that can issue a state change at a given
state determines the possible next states of the network.
We model the changes in the states of a BRN using an abstract
graph representation. In this graph, each vertex corresponds to a
possible state of the BRN. Thus, if there are n genes in a BRN,

Ay et al

then the corresponding graph contains 2" vertices. There is an edge
from vertex u to vertex v, if it is possible to change the state of the
BRN from the state represented by u to the state represented by v
by only changing the state of a single gene. There can be up to n2"
edges between these states. This graph is hi p. IIci.l.lli as we use it
only for building our mathematical model. We never materialize this
exponential sized graph in our method.
We classify the vertices of this graph into three classes based
on the number of their outgoing edges. Figure 2 provides visual
examples for all three state types listed below:

* Type 0: The vertices that do not have any outgoing edges (except
self cycles). These vertices correspond to steady states as the
state of the network cannot change once one of them is visited.
(Figure 2(a))
* Type 2: The vertices that have two or more outgoing edges. These
vertices represent transient states. (Figure 2(c))
* Type 1: The vertices that have exactly one outgoing edge. These
are the tricky vertices. The states for these vertices can be steady
or transient. (Figure 2(b) and 2(c))

In the following section, we describe the method we use for the
segregation of states into the above three types.

3.2 Segregation of States using BDDs
As we discussed in the previous section, we never generate the state
transition graph of the input network. A simple observation on our
state transition model allows us to segregate the states without this
materialization. This segregation results in not only the immediate
identification of all non-cyclic steady states, but also eliminates a
huge portion of states by classifying them as transient. For instance,
for the pyk2 network with 24 genes and 16, 777, 216 (224) possible
states, our segregation method classifies 114, 300 (w 217) states
as Type 0 (i.e. steady) and 16, 086, 712(a 224) states as Type 2
(i.e. transient) in only 0.08 seconds. Remaining 576,204 states are
labeled as Type 1. Thus, we need to explore only a small fraction of
the state space (which still can be large for practical purposes).
Here, we describe how we construct the BDDs for all Type 0
states and all Type 1 states, namely Zo and Z1. We first define a
predicate that will be handy in this discussion.

i : Xi(t + 1) Xi(t)

Here, D denotes the logical "XOR" operator. Ci evaluating to true
at time t means that gene i will change its state from Xi to -X, at
time t + 1. Otherwise, it preserves its current state. The following
equations, show the formulas of BDDs representing Type 0 and
Type 1 states:

Zo: A -C and Zi: V(ci (A ( -Cj).
i i j i

Zo = "True" represents the states that do not satisfy any of the
Ci conditions (i.e. none of the genes change state). The states in
Z1 = "True" satisfy exactly one of the Ci conditions (i.e. exactly
one gene changes state). The states which are not included in the

two BDDs above are called Type 2 and they are all transient states
since they have more than one possible successor states. The BDD
for these states can be constructed similarly. However, we eliminate
these states since they do not reflect the long term behavior of the
system. By doing this without materialization, we quickly reduce
the state space of the problem to a significantly smaller one. In the
next section, we describe how we decide the steadiness of Type 1

3.3 Extracting Cyclic Steady States
We have shown that we can identify steady states corresponding to
Type 0 vertices and transient states corresponding to Type 2 vertices
efficiently. In this section, we develop a randomized algorithm that
identifies the steady states of Type 1. We call these states : I k
steady". An example for this is the cycle of four states in Figure 2(b).
Our randomized algorithm traverses the Type 1 vertices and
reports the ones corresponding to steady states. After traversing
a portion of the vertices, we estimate the total number of steady
states, the probability of each gene being active and the joint
probability of gene pairs being co-expressed in steady states. This
is desirable because the user can decide to stop the traversal
when sufficient number of steady states are discovered with high
confidence (e.g. when 90% of the steady states are reported with
95% confidence). This kind of online querying is useful especially
when the underlying BRN is very large and the space of Type 1
states is too big to completely traverse.
Algorithm 1 briefly describes how we traverse the Type 1 states.
Next, we elaborate on different steps of this algorithm.


1. Randomly get an unobserved vertex from the Type 1 set.
2. Follow the out going edge to traverse the graph until seeing one
of the following vertices
(i) A vertex that is labeled as transient or steady in previous
(ii) A vertex that is traversed in this iteration.
3. Label all the traversed vertices as transient or steady and update
the estimators.
4. Stop if number of steady states observed so far is \'i,, it nr.

Step 1. We obtain a random seed state among the untraversed
satisfying assignments of the BDD for Type 1 states. We do this by
traversing the BDD from root node to the leaf level. At each step of
the traversal, we randomly pick a child node of the currently visited
node. The probability of moving to a child is equal to the number of
states under the subtree of that child divided by the number of states
under the subtree of the parent node. Each level of the BDD decides
the state of one gene. Thus, by randomly branching to a child
node we choose the state of a gene randomly from the satisfying
assignments of the BDD. When we reach the leaf level of the BDD,

the states of all the genes are determined and hence, our seed state
for the whole BRN.

Step 2. Once we choose an unobserved Type 1 state, the next step is
to understand whether or not we can reach to a new steady state from
this state. To do this, we traverse the state transition graph starting
from this vertex by following the edges.
Since the chosen state is of Type 1, by definition, it has only
one outgoing edge. Thus, we can easily find the next state as the
state that satisfies the transition condition. We continue traversal
by applying the same principle. Figure 1 of the Supplementary
Materials summarizes the possible cases that can occur during this
traversal. Totally there are four different cases. Starting from an
unobserved state if we traverse one of the following three paths then
all the states visited on this path are transient:

* A path ending in a Type 0 state
* A path ending in a Type 2 state
* A path ending in a state that is observed in previous iterations

Notice that all three cases correspond to Step 2(i) of our traversal
method. The next case produces both cyclic steady and transient

* A path leading to a cycle of states visited in current observation

In this case, we label all the states on the cycle as steady and the
other states on the path as transient.
Step 3. At each iteration of the while loop, we traverse a path in the
state transition graph and label each state on this path as transient
or steady. We name the set of vertices visited in each such traversal
as an observation. Using these observations, we develop estimators
for the total number and the !'. '/l." of steady states. The profile of
the steady state is the vector where the ith entry is the expected
fraction of the steady states at which the ith gene is active. For
example, if the second entry of the profile is 0.95, it means that we
expect that the second gene is active in 95% of the steady states. We
also compute the estimators for the joint expression (co-expression)
fractions of gene pairs. Computing these estimates is important as
they can lead to early prediction of the steady state profile and early
termination of the algorithm.
Here, we describe in detail the calculation and the analysis of the
estimator for the total number of cyclic steady states. First of all,
we prove that it is an unbiased estimator. Then, we discuss how to
minimize the variance of this estimator. For the other estimators we
only give the formulations.
First, let us introduce some notation we use throughout this

* No, NI: Number of Type 0 and Type 1 states, respectively.
* Oi = (si,ti): ith observation. si and ti are the number of
observed steady and transient states traversed in this observation.
* Si, Ti, Ui: Total number of observed steady states, observed
transient states and unobserved states after first i observations,

Finding All Steady States in Biological Regulatory Networks

From the definitions above, we can calculate Ui = N1 Si Ti,
Si = i= sj and Ti = z; tj. Now, we introduce a 0/1 random
variable Bi for each observation Oi. We simulate our sampling by
assuming at any time one and only one of the Bi's can be 1. In other
words, E[BiBj] = 0 for any i I j. Notice that E[Bi] = E[B'] =
s-+ti for observation Oi. We formulate the estimator of the total
number of Type 1 steady states at the ith iteration as:

o sIV

LEMMA 1. The estimator Fi is an unbiased estimator.

Proof: We prove this by showing the expected value of Fi is equal
to the total number of Type 1 steady states. Taking expectations of
both sides and replacing E[Bk] with `+Jt:

E[Fi] =E[ Bsk 1

E[Btst N1


After defining the estimator, the next step is to calculate its

LEMMA 2. The variance ofFi is

Var[Fi] N

Proof: We know that, Var[Fi]
compute F?.

F2-\-B N1
F = BjS j N1
=o s + tj

[ 8 ]]2.

E[F,] E2[Fi]. We first

VBs N1
Bs e + t
k- 0

SBjBsjs( N1 N1 ) jB2 2( N )2
( 8js + tj s1 + =0 js + tj

When we take the expected value of F, the first term cancels since
E[BjBk] 0 for any i I j. Hence, the variance of Fi can be
computed as:

Var[F] =E[F] E2[Fi]

2( N1
j j tj


E[ ( 0)2]


EThere are many ways to build an estimator from Fjs.
However, it is desirable to build an estimator with a small variance
as it converges to true solution faster. Following Lemma builds the
estimator with minimum variance.

Ay et al

LEMMA 3. The estimator that has the smallest variance is

T = Fj
i Yi V7 j3

Proof: Now, we discuss how we combine the estimators
F1, F2,..., F, with variances V1, V2..., V. to minimize the overall
variance of our estimation. In other words, we want to find the
weight parameters 1, 2, ..., 7 such that 7i = 1 and the
variance of the estimator for total number of steady states of Type
1 is minimized. Let us denote this new estimator as T = i Fi.
Var(T)= 7 Vi

Mathematically, our aim is to minimize 7,2 V given 7 1.
We formulate this problem by using Lagrange Multiplier as follows:

L = v -A(ti- 1)

Taking derivative of both sides with respect to each 7 we get the
27,i -A 0, A =-

Solving these equations we get the 7i values that minimizes the
Var(T) as:
7 1

Thus, by using the value of 7is we find that the estimator with
smallest variance is

T= 1 F

Next, we give the formulations of the estimators for the fractions
of each gene and each gene pair being active in steady states. First,
we formulate our estimator for the fraction of a gene being active in
cyclic steady states. Assume that the number of steady states at the
ith observation in which the kth gene is active is nki. An estimator
for the kth gene after the ith iteration is then :

Gk,i = nk,j/Si (4)

Let nab,i denote the number of steady states in which gene a
and gene b are both active or both inactive after the ith observation.
We calculate the estimator of joint probability of two genes having
the same activity level at a steady state as:

Ja-b,i = Ra-b,j/Si (5)

The probability of a gene being active in steady states is important
in characterizing the overall steady state behavior of this gene. We

found that some genes can be active in more that I'. of the steady
states, whereas some others show activation in only less than 10% of
these states. The joint probability of two genes being active together
is called co-expression. Co-expression of gene pairs are crucial in
functional annotation of genes [24]. Therefore, the estimators we
calculate above are useful in interpreting the co-expressed genes
in BRNs. We discuss their biological significance in experimental
results section.
Step 4. When our randomized algorithm finishes traversing all Type
1 states (steps 1 to 3), it finds all the steady states. However, in some
applications it might be sufficient to find a predetermined percentage
of steady states. We develop statistical criteria to be able to terminate
the algorithm quickly after a sufficient portion of the Type 1 states
are explored. Our method still guarantees that the desired percentage
of the results are found with high confidence. More precisely, when
the user supplies a parameter a (e.g. 0.9), we compute a confidence
c E [0, 1], at each iteration such that "at least a x 100 percent of the
steady states are found with probability at least c". This is desirable
as the user can terminate the loop when c is large enough for the
underlying application.
Now, let us describe how the stopping criteria works. Let A*
denote the actual number of total Type 1 steady states. If we have
known the value of A* we could have stopped sampling with a
confidence value of c 1 when A* < Si + (1 a)(No+s) is
satisfied. That is the time when we are sure that a x 100 percent
of the steady states are already reported. Since we do not know A*
in advance, we use the information gathered from observed portion
of states. We compute Ai which denotes the minimum number of
total steady states that needs to be present for our method to decide
to continue traversal.

Ai = Si + (1 a)(No + Si)/a

Trivially, if Ai > Ui + Si we just stop sampling with 11n '.
confidence as even if all the unobserved states were to be steady,
the reported ones constitute at least a x 100 percent of total steady
states. Otherwise, we calculate the confidence value in ith iteration
as the probability that we would have observed at least Si steady
states in our observations so far if there were Ai unobserved steady
states. Formally, we compute the confidence as:

C(Ai) [i+T Si+TT q (1 qi)s+Ti-k] (7)
C Y k qjSl qi k} (7)

qi in Equation 7 represents the percentage of steady states if there
were Ai steady states in Type 1 states (i.e. qi = ). The inner term
of the summation represents "The probability of getting exactly k
steady states from Si +Ti currently observed states if the probability
of a state being steady is qi".
Lemma 4 shows that, the confidence value reported when we stop
sampling is never an over estimation. In other words, the stopping
criteria does not cause any false dismissals.

LEMMA 4. The confidence value given in Equation 7 by using
Ai does not lead to false dismissal.

Proof: Here, we have three cases to consider:

* Casel : (A* > Ai)
Then, q, > N- qi. Since the confidence value is
calculated as the area under the right hand side of a binomial
probability distribution function (i.e. inverse CDF), c value will
be larger for a larger value of q. Hence, C(A*) > C(Ai). That
means whenever we stop sampling the confidence we report is
* Case2: (A* = Ai)
Trivially, C(A*) = C(Ai) when we terminate the sampling.
* Case3: (A* < Ai)
This case implies that we overestimated the total number of
steady states in confidence value calculation. Only thing that can
happen in such a case is that our method continues sampling when
it does not need to. Since the actual number of steady states are
less than what we have guessed, when we decide to stop we have
already sampled at least as many steady states as we needed.

Corollary 1 follows from Lemma 4.

COROLLARY 1. Our 1...- Ai,,, guarantees to find all the steady
states when the confidence value reaches 1.0. O

3.4 Partitioning of independent sub-networks
An interesting case happens when the BRN can be partitioned into
disconnected subnetworks. Finding the steady states in the entire
BRN from the results of the individual parititions is relatively easy
in this case. When there are no activations or inhibitions between
two or more sub-networks of the input network, the steady states of
a partition can be determined independent of the other partitions. In
the case of BRNs, that type of partitioning is usually applicable [11].
Assume that we have k independent partitions for an input BRN.
We know that Type 0 states have no outgoing edges and Type 1
steady states have only one outgoing edge which is a part of a cycle.
Therefore, the combination of two Type 0 steady states from two
partitions results in a Type 0 steady state for the union of these
partitions. This is also true for multiple partitions. On the other
hand, combining a Type 1 steady state of a partition with a Type
0 steady state of another partition we get a Type 1 steady state for
the union of these partitions. However, combining two Type 1 steady
states produces two outgoing edges from combined state. Hence, all
such states are transient. Clearly, any other type of state combination
results in transient states.
Let, 01, 02, - o and Q1, Q2,. Qk denote the number of
Type 0 and Type 1 steady states in each partition. Using the above
observations on combining the steady states, we formulate the total
number of Type 0 and Type 1 steady states (0 and 0 I.pI. ci .
of the actual network as:

0 = 8i and
i= 1

- [Q J0j].
i=1 ifj

Finding All Steady States in Biological Regulatory Networks

3.5 Further Partitioning the BRN
The initial segregation of states and the use of stopping criteria
for sampling accelerate our algorithm significantly. Since the state
space grows exponentially, further speed up might be necessary for
large networks. For this purpose, we propose a network partitioning-
based strategy to increase the scalability of our method. Especially,
when the number of Type 1 states and the number of cyclic steady
states are large, partitioning the network before applying the above
steps can improve the running time significantly. In here, we
discuss how we combine the results gathered from these partitions
to construct overall steady states of the actual network without loss
of any information.
Combining the results from different partitions is rather easy
when the partitions are independent of each other (i.e. when they are
disconnected). We leave that case to the Supplementary Materials
and discuss the harder case when the partitions weakly depend on
each other (i.e. there are a small number of interactions between
different partitions). We use The Boost Graph Library functions [28]
to identify the two components of the network that have the least
number of interactions between each other. When necessary, this
division can be repeated recursively. In here, we explain our
method on a network that is divided into two subnetworks which
are connected by only one interaction of activation type. The
discussion can be generalized to partitions connected by more
than one interactions. However, the complexity of combining
the results of two partitions can increase exponentially with the
number of interactions between them. Therefore, it is important
to use partitioning of this type for only weakly dependent sub-
networks. The good news is that, the weakly dependent subnetworks
are commonly observed in real BRN data due to the sparsity
of interactions. For instance, the average number of interactions
per gene is only 1.12 in average in the real networks we use in
our experiments. We discuss the applicability of our partitioning
strategy on real data sets in Section 4.2.
Let us turn our attention back to the case with two sub-networks
connected by a single activation. Let P and R denote these
partitions and A, E P and B, E R be the two genes such that
Ap activates B, (i.e. Ap -> B,). Define another partition R' such
that R' R U {Ap}. We first identify all the steady states of each
of these three partitions using our algorithm. The tricky part is to
combine the steady states of these three partitions to find all the
steady states of the original network without losing any information.
We do this as follows. We first pick one steady state, say up, from
the solution space of partition P. Depending on the type of up, we
have three different cases to consider:
Casel : up is of Type 0. In this case, each steady state of
partition R' can be combined with up to create a combined steady
state. If Ap is active in state up we combine up with only the steady
states of R' that have gene Ap in active state. The case when Ap is
inactive is combined similarly.
Case2 : up is of Type 1 and the state of Ap is fixed in the
steady state cycle that contains up. If gene Ap is inactive in up,
we combine it with only the Type 0 steady states of partition R.
When Ap is always zero in a cyclic steady state of P, the activation

Ay et al

between Ap and B, has no effect on the states of R and two
partitions act independently. In the case when Ap is always active,
we only combine up with Type 0 steady states of R which have Ap
in active state.
Case3 : up is of Type 1 and the state of Ap is notfixed in the
steady state cycle that contains up. If gene Ap changes activity level
(oscillates) in a steady state cycle with state up, then we can only
combine up with the Type 0 steady states of partition R in which
gene Ap has no ffe i on the state of gene B,. The only case when
Ap can have a state changing effect on B, is when all the other
activators and all inhibitors of gene B, are in inactive state. Hence,
we combine up with only the steady states of R in which at least
one activator or an inhibitor of B, is in active state.

In this section, we evaluate the performance and accuracy of our
algorithm through various experiments on real BRNs. We compare
the significance of the steady states found by our algorithm to
both experimentally observed and computationally predicted steady
states. We measure the number of steady states observed, running
time and the activity levels of individual genes and gene pairs in
steady states.
Code: We implement our algorithm using C++. We use the BDD
implementation of the BuDDy package [15] as our data structure.
For partitioning the BRNs, we use Boost Graph Library [28]. We
obtain the executable of the method proposed by Garg et al. [9] from
the authors.
Dataset: We use the BRNs that are available from the literature.
Also, we use the signaling pathways and gene regulatory networks
available in the KEGG Pathway database [19].
Environment:We run all the experiments on a desktop computer
running Ubuntu 8.04 with a 3.20 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM.

4.1 Biological Significance
To evaluate the accuracy of the results reported by our algorithm,
we compared the steady states that we found with the steady states
that are reported in the literature. For this purpose, we use the
genetic regulatory network that controls flower morphogenesis in
Arabidopsis thaliana which has been studied in detail in several
papers [17, 6].
The network shown in Figure 4 is taken from Mendoza et al. [17].
They analyzed this network using generalized logical analysis. They
focused on two subnetworks, namely the subnetworks that contain
the genes {AP3, PI} and {TFL1, LFY, AP1, AG}. They enumerated
all the possible states of each subnetwork and exhaustively identified
all their steady states. We use the vector notation to represent the
activity levels of an ordered gene set. For instance, for a gene
set of {gi, g2, g3} [010] represents the state when g2 is active
and gi, g3 are inactive. Using this notation, the two steady states
found for {AP3, PI} are [00] and [11]. For the subnetwork of
{TFL1, LFY, AP1, AG} they considered two cases depending
on the activity of flower inhibitor gene EMF1. If EMF1 is active
[1000] is found as the only steady state for {TFL1, LFY, AP1, AG}
subnetwork. For the case when EMF1 is inactive, [0001] and [0010]
are found as the two possible steady states. When identifying these

steady states, they did not consider the effect of input genes (LUG,
UFO and SUP) and the interactions between two subnetworks.
They assumed independent behavior for two subnetworks and only
transient activity for the three inputs. However these assumptions
prevent them from combining the steady states correctly and cause
loss of biologically meaningful steady states as we will discuss next.

Assume that the states we give
in vector notation will correspond
to the states of the genes in the
order EMF1, TFL1, LFY, AP1,
The six steady states found by
Mendoza et al. are described by
using ABC combinatorial model
proposed for flower morphogenesis [
as follows: [0001000000] = A
function, [0001000110] = A and
B functions, [0000100110] = B
and C functions, {[1100000000],
[1100000110]} = nu n lrr l state
and [0000100000] = C function.
Our algorithm identified the last
four steady states when A function
is not active. The two states with
active genes of {AP1} and {AP1,

,/ \ FL1



Fig. 4: Regulatory network
of flower morphogenesis
in Arabidopsis Thaliana.
Pointed arrow heads represent
activation and arrow heads with
bars represent inhibition.
AP3, PI} are not reported by

our method. Indeed, there is a high parallelism between the activity
levels of API and LFY genes [3]. Additionally, they have a mutually
reinforcing effect which is denoted by the positive feedback loop in
Figure 4. Due to these reasons, the two states with active API and
inactive LFY proposed by Mendoza et al. for describing the states
of genes when A function is active are not realistic. To express
the states when only A function is active and when both A and B
functions are active more realistically, we propose the two steady
states [0011000001] and [0011000110] which are identified by our
algorithm. The first one corresponds to high activity levels of AP1,
LFY and SUP genes. This describes the case when only A function
is active. The reason why SUP is active in this state is that it
suppresses the activator effect of LFY on the genes related to B
function. That way it keeps A as the only active function in this
state. The second state we propose corresponds to the situation when
SUP loses its inhibition effect on AP3 and PI. In that case, the active
genes are AP1, LFY, AP3 and PI. The first two genes are responsible
from A function and the last two are responsible from B function.
The two states that we propose above cannot be found by
Mendoza et al.'s method. The reason is, when they separate the
network into two parts they do not consider how LFY activity
can lead to different transitions than the case when the network
is complete. Since our algorithm takes only milliseconds for
identifying all the steady states of this network, we did not partition
the network. However, even if it was the case that we partitioned
the network, our method would have assured that none of the steady
states are lost by considering all the possible cases while combining
the results of partitions as we described in Section 3.5.

We provide additional results on co-expression of genes to test
the biological significance of the results in the Supplementary

4.2 Comparison with Existing Methods
In this section, we compare the performance of our method to that of
Garg et al. [9]. We compared the number of steady states found by
each algorithm and the running times for a number of real BRNs
taken from KEGG. Table 1 reports the results for two different
versions of their method and our method. We explain what we mean
by different versions in the caption of this table.
When we use the original BRNs as inputs, Garg et al.'s method
crashed for most of the cases. We believe that, one of the reasons
of this is that their method assumes that the input genes without self
activations are always inactive. However, this is not the case in many
real BRNs. Additionally, this assumption literally disconnects input
genes from the network which results in a considerably smaller but
not complete model of the real BRN. As a result, the method of
Garg et al. misclassifies a significant portion of the steady states.
An example for that case is p53 network given in Table 1. For this
network, we report 9.4E+13 steady states, whereas their method
could find only 1 trivial steady state which is when all genes are
inactive. Thus, their assumption in modeling degrades the accuracy
and the applicability of their algorithm significantly.
We tried to fix the above problem in Garg et al. by adding
self activations to all the genes in the networks. Interestingly, the
numbers of steady states for modified networks are significantly
larger than the ones for the original versions. Also, we observed that
their method does not crash for any of the modified input networks.
However, it still incurs false positives and false negatives. The first
row of the Table 1 provides an example when the modified version
of Garg et al.'s method incurs false negatives (i.e. misses some of
the steady states). The second row, T-Helper network, shows the
case when it has false positives (i.e. transient states are classified as
The running times in Table 1 indicate that, even when we do not
use our partitioning strategy, our method runs significantly faster
than the modified version of the method of Garg et al. for all
the cases. It took around 1.5 minutes for our method to identify
the steady states for the largest network (MAPK), whereas their
algorithm could not find all the steady states in 10 days.
The last column in Table 1 reports the running times in bold
for the cases when partitioning into independent sub-networks
resulted in partitions having more than 20 genes. For these cases,
we used our partitioning strategy of separating weakly-dependent
components. For instance, for the p38-MAPK network with one
connected component (26 genes) our algorithm took 21 minutes.
When we divide the network into two components with 17 and 9
genes that are connected by only one edge, the running time dropped
to 0.2 seconds.
The above results showed that our .1..., ;,.., is more accurate
.,:.,l ,..;f..:. C .. l,: the method of Garg etal. Furthermore,
our non-trivial partitioning strategy makes it scalable for even large
networks. Therefore, we believe that our method can be used for

Finding All Steady States in Biological Regulatory Networks

accurate identification of all the steady states for even the large
scale BRNs.

4.3 Accuracy of Estimators
To evaluate the quality of our sampling-based estimators, we
measured their correctness and convergence rate. Correctness means
that the estimates will eventually converge to the correct value.
For the convergence rate, a good estimator should approximate the
correct value after a small fraction of the state space is explored.
We use a portion of p53 network in this experiment. We measure
the estimated number of steady states at which a gene is active for
each gene at each iteration of our algorithm. Our algorithm traverses
the entire space of Type 1 states in approximately 2,500 iterations
for this network. Figure 5 shows the results for seven different
genes. We plot these genes as they have different characteristics.
They vary in the fraction of steady states in which they are active
(e.g. CHK3 is active whereas p21 is suppressed in many steady
states). The results show that our estimators converge to the correct
ratio for all genes in less than 500 iterations. The rapid convergence
suggests that our algorithm approximates the correct profile of gene
levels without traversing the whole space of Type 1 states. Hence,
our algorithm is also practical for large BRNs with high connectivity
which is the case when partitioning the network becomes difficult.

4.4 Co-expression of gene pairs
As discussed in Section 3.3 of the paper, we calculate the fraction
of steady states in which a two genes are in active state together.
Biologically this fraction corresponds to the co-expression of the
two genes. Revealing co-expressed genes has great significance in
discovery of conserved genetic modules [27] and identification of
differentially expressed genes [20].
In here, we compare the co-expression values for gene pairs
found by our algorithm with the values reported in the gene co-
expression database, COXPRESdb [18]. For this purpose, we use
Hedgehog signaling network of Homo Sapiens given in KEGG.
This network consists of 17 genes and hence, 136 possible gene
pairs. We sorted the gene pairs according to their co-expression
values in a decreasing order and compared our ordering with the
one in COXPRESdb. We picked top 20 gene pairs from our list
and searched for the indices of these pairs in the ordering of
COXPRESdb. Here, we report the largest index, 1, among these k
indices for different values of k.
For k = 1 we have 1 = 1, which means that the highest
co-expressed gene pair (GL1-SMO) in our ordering is also the
top scoring pair in COXPRESdb. For k = 5 we have 1 = 6,
meaning that the five gene pairs (GL1-SMO, GSK3B-FBXW11,
RAB23-GAS1, GLI1-IHH and SUFU-SMO) with the highest ranks
in our ordering are in between the top 6 pairs in the ranking of
COXPRESdb. For the other values of k = 10 and k = 15, the I
values are 16 and 35 respectively. Hence, the gene pairs reported by
our method that are found to be active together in the steady states
suggest that there is a co-expression between these two genes. This
suggests that our algorithm is useful in predicting co-expression of
genes in BRNs.

Ay et al

Table 1. The comparison of our algorithm with an existing method on eight different BRNs. 1 The method of Garg et al. when we use BRNs as they are
given in KEGG database. 2 The method of Garg et al. when we add self activations for all the genes in original BRNs. 3 Our algorithm without partitioning
the BRNs into weakly-connected sub-networks. 4 Our algorithm when we partition the weakly-connected sub-networks of size larger than 20. "-" indicates
that the corresponding method crashed and "'>10 days' indicates that the method could not finish reporting all the steady states after 10 days.

Network size Number of Steady States Total Running Time (seconds or days)
Network Genes Edges Garg et al. Garg et al. Our Algo. Garg et al. Garg et al. Our Algo. Our Algo.
Hedgehog 17 11 616 11,700 -4.79s 0.02s 0.02s
T-Helper 23 35 3 4,685 2,152 0.178s 723s 48s 0.9s
p38-MAPK 26 28 23,087 23,087 -3.6E+4s 1.26s 0.2s
fmlp 27 31 81,864 81,864 -4.8E+5s 1.3s 1.3s
Adipocytokine 35 35 40 >665,450 8.3E+6 0.05s >10 days 125s 0.4s
GnRH 40 23 47,520 5.8E+7 -9.8E+4s 0.09s 0.09s
p53 55 56 1 >545,807 9.4E+13 0.2s >10 days 144s
MAPK 114 55 >304,131 1.17E+30 >10 days 91s 0.13s


In this paper, we proposed a computational method that can identify
all the steady states of BRNs accurately and efficiently. We built
a mathematical model that can explain the changes in the state of
BRNs. Using this, we employed BDDs to filter a large percentage
of the state space that has only transient states. The BDDs allowed
us to pick another subset in the state space which consists of all the
Type 0 steady states. For the remaining state space, we developed
a randomized traversal algorithm. This algorithm estimates the
number of steady states and the expected behavior of individual
genes and pairs of genes in the steady state in an online fashion.
We formulated a stopping criteria that terminates the randomized
algorithm as soon as user supplied percentage of the results are
returned with high confidence. We also developed a partitioning-
based strategy that makes our algorithm scalable to virtually any
large network. Our experiments showed that, our method finds
many steady states that cannot be found using existing methods.
Furthermore, our algorithm runs significantly faster than the existing
methods especially for large networks.





Number of Iterations
Fig. 5: Convergence of the estimators of the fraction of steady states that
each gene is active.

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