The emergence of drug-resistant pathogen strains and new infectious agents pose major challenges to public health. A promising approach to combat these problems is to target the host's genes or proteins, especially to discover targets that are effective against multiple pathogens, i.e., host-oriented broad-spectrum (HOBS) drug targets. An important first step in the discovery of such drug targets is the identification of host responses that are commonly perturbed by multiple pathogens.
In this paper, we present a methodology to identify common host responses elicited by multiple pathogens. First, we identified host responses perturbed by each pathogen using a gene set enrichment analysis of publicly available genome-wide transcriptional datasets. Then, we used biclustering to identify groups of host pathways and biological processes that were perturbed only by a subset of the analyzed pathogens. Finally, we tested the enrichment of each bicluster in human genes that are known drug targets, on the basis of which we elicited putative HOBS targets for specific groups of bacterial pathogens. We identified 84 up-regulated and three down-regulated statistically significant biclusters. Each bicluster contained a group of pathogens that commonly dysregulated a group of biological processes. We validated our approach by checking whether these biclusters correspond to known hallmarks of bacterial infection. Indeed, these biclusters contained biological process such as inflammation, activation of dendritic cells, pro- and anti- apoptotic responses and other innate immune responses. Next, we identified biclusters containing pathogens that infected the same tissue. After a literature-based analysis of the drug targets contained in these biclusters, we suggested new uses of the drugs Anakinra, Etanercept, and Infliximab for gastrointestinal pathogens Yersinia enterocolitica, Helicobacter pylori kx2 strain, and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli and the drug Simvastatin for hematopoietic pathogen Ehrlichia chaffeensis.
Using a combination of automated analysis of host-response gene expression data and manual study of the literature, we have been able to suggest host-oriented treatments for specific bacterial infections. The analyses and suggestions made in this study may be utilized to generate concrete hypothesis on which gene sets to probe further in the quest for HOBS drug targets for bacterial infections. All our results are available at the following supplementary website: http://bioinformatics.cs.vt.edu/murali/supplements/2013-kidane-plos-one.