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Studying relationships among gene products by expression profile analysis is a common approach in systems biology. Many studies have generalized the outcomes to the different levels of central dogma information flow and assumed a correlation of transcript and protein expression levels. However, the relation between the various types of interaction (i.e., activation and inhibition) of gene products to their expression profiles has not been widely studied. In fact, looking for any perturbation according to differentially expressed genes is the common approach, while analyzing the effects of altered expression on the activity of signaling pathways is often ignored. In this study, we examine whether significant changes in gene expression necessarily lead to dysregulated signaling pathways. Using four commonly used and comprehensive databases, we extracted all relevant gene expression data and all relationships among directly linked gene pairs. We aimed to evaluate the ratio of coherency or sign consistency between the expression level as well as the causal relationships among the gene pairs. Through a comparison with random unconnected gene pairs, we illustrate that the signaling network is incoherent, and inconsistent with the recorded expression profile. Finally, we demonstrate that, to infer perturbed signaling pathways, we need to consider the type of relationships in addition to gene-product expression data, especially at the transcript level. We assert that identifying enriched biological processes via differentially expressed genes is limited when attempting to infer dysregulated pathways.

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causality analysis, differentially expressed genes, gene expression, network biology, signaling network, transcriptomics