In this example, we will generate a gene module-immune cell signature network using the GmicR pacakge. This package uses WGCNA to compresses high-dimensional expression data into module eigenegenes, which are used with bayesian learning and xCell cell signatures to infer causal relationships between gene modules and cell signatures. Expression data must be normalized (RPKM/FPKM/TPM/RSEM) and annotated with official gene symbols.

Installation of Bioconductor packages

For macosx users experiencing WGCNA installation errors, try downloading a compiled version from:

For macosx users experiencing installation errors, try downloading OS X binaries from:

Step 1 for GMIC building: Accessing Expression data

For this example, we are downloading microarray expression data provided by the xCell web portal. This dataset contains the expression profiles of twelve different types of human leukocytes from peripheral blood and bone marrow, before and after different treatments.

Detailed information about this dataset is available:

Downloading expression data

QC of expression data

WGCNA is used to for quality control of genes via the goodSamplesGenes function

A sampleTree can be used to check for outlier samples. For this example all samples are kept.

Exporting expression data for xCell signature analysis

For cell signature detection using xCell, the expression data can be written to a csv file. The file can be uploaded at:

The xCell results will be emailed to you.

Once you have the xCell data processed by, you will receive an email linking to three text files. Download these files. For GmicR, the “xCell results” file is required for Step 3.

Step 2 for GMIC building: gene module detection and annotation

For simplicity, we will carryout WGCNA using 1000 randomly selected genes from 50 randomly selected samples

WGCNA module detection

Auto_WGCNA is a wrapper for WGCNA. Not all options are avaible. For more advanced features please use WGCNA.

Viewing input parameters

Soft threshold plot

module clustering


Module annotation

WGCNA functions intramodularConnectivity and chooseOneHubInEachModule are used to build a dataframe with gene module information.

This function constructs a library for gene ontology enrichment, which will be used for module naming with the GO_Module_NameR function.

GO_Module_NameR will assign a name to each module based on ontology size. A smaller cut off size will generate a more specific term.

This table provides a summary of detected modules. “Freq” indicates the total genes within each module

A searchable dataframe is also generated

Step 3: Preparing module eigengenes and cell signatures for BN learning

Specify the “xCell results” file directory

For this example, we are using cell signatures provided by the GmicR package, which were generated using the xCell web portal.


This function merges module eigengenes with xCell signatures prior to discretization. Only xCell signatures are supported. Discretization is carried out with bnlearning using “hartemink” method. For detailed information discretization see:

Step 4: BN learning

Bayesian network learing with bootstrapping.

Although the default score for this function is Bayesian Dirichlet equivalent score (bde), for this example we will use the Bayesian Dirichlet sparse score (bds). For sparse data, such as the data used in this example, the bds score is better suited:

GmicR shiny app

Once complete, the GMIC network can be viewed using the Gmic_viz shiny app.


You can view the entire network or just a subset of nodes. Inverse relationships can be highlighted based on color and/or edge pattern.

Not all nodes are represented:

  • Module must have at least one connection
  • xCell signature must have a relationship with a module


You can search for your favorite gene or module of interest.