The goal of NetCoupler is to estimate causal links between a set of -omic (e.g. metabolomics, lipidomics) or other high-dimensional data and an external variable, such as a disease outcome, an exposure, or both. The NetCoupler-algorithm, initially formulated during Clemens’ PhD thesis (Wittenbecher 2017), links a conditional dependency network with an external variable (i.e. an outcome or exposure) to identify network-independent associations between the network variables and the external variable, classified as direct effects.
A typical use case we have in mind would be if a researcher might be interested in exploring potential pathways that exist between a health exposure like red meat consumption, its impact on the metabolic profile, and the subsequent impact on an outcome like type 2 diabetes incidence. So for instance, you want to ask questions to get answers that look like the figure below.
The input for NetCoupler includes:
lm()), including confounders to adjust for.
The final output is the modeling results along with the results from NetCoupler’s classification. Results can then be displayed as a joint network model in graphical format.
There are a few key assumptions to consider before using NetCoupler for your own research purposes.
NetCoupler has several frameworks in mind:
%>%or base R
The general workflow for using NetCoupler revolves around several main functions, listed below as well as visualized in the figure below:
nc_standardize(): The algorithm in general, but especially the network estimation method, is sensitive to the values and distribution of the variables. Scaling the variables by standardizing, mean-centering, and natural log transforming them are important to obtaining more accurate estimations.
nc_estimate_network(): Estimate the connections between metabolic variables as a undirected graph based on dependencies between variables. This network is used to identify metabolic variables that are connected to each other as neighbours.
nc_estimate_outcome_links(): Uses the standardized data and the estimated network to classify the conditionally independent relationship between each metabolic variable and an external variable (e.g. an outcome or an exposure) as either being a direct, ambiguous, or no effect relationship.
classify_option_list. See the help documentation of the estimating functions for more details. For larger datasets, with more sample size and variables included in the network, we strongly recommend lowering the threshold used to reduce the risk of false positives.
nc_join_links(): Not implemented yet. Join together the exposure- and outcome-side estimated links.
nc_plot_network(): Not implemented yet. Visualize the connections estimated from
nc_plot_links(): Not implemented yet. Plots the output results from either