Network Medicine-Based Unbiased Disease Modules for Drug and Diagnostic Target Identification in ROSopathies

Part of the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology book series (HEP, volume 264)


Most diseases are defined by a symptom, not a mechanism. Consequently, therapies remain symptomatic. In reverse, many potential disease mechanisms remain in arbitrary search for clinical relevance. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are such an example. It is an attractive hypothesis that dysregulation of ROS can become a disease trigger. Indeed, elevated ROS levels of various biomarkers have been correlated with almost every disease, yet after decades of research without any therapeutic application. We here present a first systematic, non-hypothesis-based approach to transform this field as a proof of concept for biomedical research in general. We selected as seed proteins 9 families with 42 members of clinically researched ROS-generating enzymes, ROS-metabolizing enzymes or ROS targets. Applying an unbiased network medicine approach, their first neighbours were connected, and, based on a stringent subnet participation degree (SPD) of 0.4, hub nodes excluded. This resulted in 12 distinct human interactome-based ROS signalling modules, while 8 proteins remaining unconnected. This ROSome is in sharp contrast to commonly used highly curated and integrated KEGG, HMDB or WikiPathways. These latter serve more as mind maps of possible ROS signalling events but may lack important interactions and often do not take different cellular and subcellular localization into account. Moreover, novel non-ROS-related proteins were part of these forming functional hybrids, such as the NOX5/sGC, NOX1,2/NOS2, NRF2/ENC-1 and MPO/SP-A modules. Thus, ROS sources are not interchangeable but associated with distinct disease processes or not at all. Module members represent leads for precision diagnostics to stratify patients with specific ROSopathies for precision intervention.

Graphical Abstract

The upper panel shows the classical approach to generate hypotheses for a role of ROS in a given disease by focusing on ROS levels and to some degree the ROS type or metabolite. Low levels are considered physiological; higher amounts are thought to cause a redox imbalance, oxidative stress and eventually disease. The source of ROS is less relevant; there is also ROS-induced ROS formation, i.e. by secondary sources (see upwards arrow). The non-hypothesis-based network medicine approach uses genetically or otherwise validated risk genes to construct disease-relevant signalling modules, which will contain also ROS targets. Not all ROS sources will be relevant for a given disease; some may not be disease relevant at all. The three examples show (from left to right) the disease-relevant appearance of an unphysiological ROS modifier/toxifier protein, ROS target or ROS source.


ROS Systems medicine Network pharmacology Precision medicine Precision diagnostics 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pharmacology and Personalised MedicineMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and Computer ScienceUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  3. 3.Chair of Experimental Bioinformatics, TUM School of Life SciencesTechnical University of MunichFreisingGermany

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