© 2015 Suphavilai et al. Background: Traditional approaches to studying molecular networks are based on linking genes or proteins. Higher-level networks linking gene sets or pathways have been proposed recently. Several types of gene set networks have been used to study complex molecular networks such as co-membership gene set networks (M-GSNs) and co-enrichment gene set networks (E-GSNs). Gene set networks are useful for studying biological mechanism of diseases and drug perturbations. Results: In this study, we proposed a new approach for constructing directed, regulatory gene set networks (R-GSNs) to reveal novel relationships among gene sets or pathways. We collected several gene set collections and high-quality gene regulation data in order to construct R-GSNs in a comparative study with co-membership gene set networks (M-GSNs). We described a method for constructing both global and disease-specific R-GSNs and determining their significance. To demonstrate the potential applications to disease biology studies, we constructed and analysed an R-GSN specifically built for Alzheimer's disease. Conclusions: R-GSNs can provide new biological insights complementary to those derived at the protein regulatory network level or M-GSNs. When integrated properly to functional genomics data, R-GSNs can help enable future research on systems biology and translational bioinformatics.