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Transcriptional Interactions During Smallpox Infection and Identification of Early Infection Biomarkers

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Smallpox is a deadly disease that can be intentionally reintroduced into the human population as a bioweapon. While host gene expression microarray profiling can be used to detect infection, the analysis of this information using unsupervised and supervised classification techniques can produce contradictory results. Here, we present a novel computational approach to incorporate molecular genome annotation features that are key for identifying early infection biomarkers (EIB). Our analysis identified 58 EIBs expressed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) collected from 21 cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis) infected with two variola strains via aerosol and intravenous exposure. The level of expression of these EIBs was correlated with disease progression and severity. No overlap between the EIBs co-expression and protein interaction data reported in public databases was found. This suggests that a pathogen-specific re-organization of the gene expression and protein interaction networks occurs during infection. To identify potential genome-wide protein interactions between variola and humans, we performed a protein domain analysis of all smallpox and human proteins. We found that only 55 of the 161 protein domains in smallpox are also present in the human genome. These co-occurring domains are mostly represented in proteins involved in blood coagulation, complement activation, angiogenesis, inflammation, and hormone transport. Several of these proteins are within the EIBs category and suggest potential new targets for the development of therapeutic countermeasures.


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