18 Scopus citations


We present a technique applicable in any dynamical framework to identify control-robust subsets of an interacting system. These robust subsystems, which we call stable modules, are characterized by constraints on the variables that make up the subsystem. They are robust in the sense that if the defining constraints are satisfied at a given time, they remain satisfied for all later times, regardless of what happens in the rest of the system, and can only be broken if the constrained variables are externally manipulated. We identify stable modules as graph structures in an expanded network, which represents causal links between variable constraints. A stable module represents a system “decision point”, or trap subspace. Using the expanded network, small stable modules can be composed sequentially to form larger stable modules that describe dynamics on the system level. Collections of large, mutually exclusive stable modules describe the system’s repertoire of long-term behaviors. We implement this technique in a broad class of dynamical systems and illustrate its practical utility via examples and algorithmic analysis of two published biological network models. In the segment polarity gene network of Drosophila melanogaster, we obtain a state-space visualization that reproduces by novel means the four possible cell fates and predicts the outcome of cell transplant experiments. In the T-cell signaling network, we identify six signaling elements that determine the high-signal response and show that control of an element connected to them cannot disrupt this response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1006630
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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