Modeling Time-Varying Networks with Applications to Neural Flow and Genetic Regulation

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Many biological processes are effectively modeled as networks, but a frequent assumption is that these networks do not change during data collection. However, that assumption does not hold for many phenomena, such as neural growth during learning or changes in genetic regulation during cell differentiation. Approaches are needed that explicitly model networks as they change in time and that characterize the nature of those changes.

In this work, we develop a new class of graphical models in which the conditional dependence structure of the underlying data-generation process is permitted to change over time. We first present the model, explain how to derive it from Bayesian networks, and develop an efficient MCMC sampling algorithm that easily generalizes under varying levels of uncertainty about the data generation process. We then characterize the nature of evolving networks in several biological datasets.

We initially focus on learning how neural information flow networks change in songbirds with implanted electrodes. We characterize how they change in response to different sound stimuli and during the process of habituation. We continue to explore the neurobiology of songbirds by identifying changes in neural information flow in another habituation experiment using fMRI data. Finally, we briefly examine evolving genetic regulatory networks involved in Drosophila muscle differentiation during development.

We conclude by suggesting new experimental directions and statistical extensions to the model for predicting novel neural flow results.





Robinson, Joshua Westly (2010). Modeling Time-Varying Networks with Applications to Neural Flow and Genetic Regulation. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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