Comparative analysis of genome-wide expression profiles are increasingly being used to study virus-specific host interactions. In order to gain mechanistic insights, gene expression profiles can be combined with information on DNA-binding sites of transcription factors to detect transcription factor activity (by analysis of target gene sets) during viral infections. Here, we apply this approach to study mechanisms of immune antagonism elicited by Influenza A virus (New Caledonia/20/1999) by comparing the transcriptional response with the non-pathogenic Newcastle disease virus (NDV), which lacks human immune antagonism.
Existing gene set approaches do not quantify activity in a way that can be statistically compared between responses. We thus developed a new method for Bayesian Estimation of Transcription factor Activity (BETA) that allows for such quantification and comparative analysis across multiple responses. BETA predicted decreased ISGF3 activity during influenza A infection of human dendritic cells (reflected in lower expression of Interferon Stimulated Genes, ISGs). This prediction was confirmed through a combination of mathematical modeling and experiments at different multiplicities of infection to show that ISGs were specifically blocked in infected cells. Suppression of the transcription factor SATB1 was also predicted as a novel effect of influenza-mediated immune antagonism, and validated experimentally.
Comparative analysis of genome-wide transcriptional profiles can reveal new effects of viral immune antagonism. We have developed a computational framework (BETA) that enables quantitative comparative analysis of transcription factor activities. This method will aid future studies to identify mechanistic differences in the host-pathogen interactions. Application of BETA to genome-wide transcriptional profiling data from human DCs identified SATB1 as a novel effect of influenza antagonism.