Data-Driven Metabolic Pathway Compositions Enhance Cancer Survival Prediction

Noam Auslander*, Allon Wagner, Matthew Oberhardt, Eytan Ruppin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Altered cellular metabolism is an important characteristic and driver of cancer. Surprisingly, however, we find here that aggregating individual gene expression using canonical metabolic pathways fails to enhance the classification of noncancerous vs. cancerous tissues and the prediction of cancer patient survival. This supports the notion that metabolic alterations in cancer rewire cellular metabolism through unconventional pathways. Here we present MCF (Metabolic classifier and feature generator), which incorporates gene expression measurements into a human metabolic network to infer new cancer-mediated pathway compositions that enhance cancer vs. adjacent noncancerous tissue classification across five different cancer types. MCF outperforms standard classifiers based on individual gene expression and on canonical human curated metabolic pathways. It successfully builds robust classifiers integrating different datasets of the same cancer type. Reassuringly, the MCF pathways identified lead to metabolites known to be associated with the pertaining specific cancer types. Aggregating gene expression through MCF pathways leads to markedly better predictions of breast cancer patients’ survival in an independent cohort than using the canonical human metabolic pathways (C-index = 0.69 vs. 0.52, respectively). Notably, the survival predictive power of individual MCF pathways strongly correlates with their power in predicting cancer vs. noncancerous samples. The more predictive composite pathways identified via MCF are hence more likely to capture key metabolic alterations occurring in cancer than the canonical pathways characterizing healthy human metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1005125
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2016


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