New research led by Biostatistics Chair John Quackenbush and Dawn DeMeo of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has uncovered sex-based differences in networks that regulate gene expression in a large number of human tissues. The finding is important because it can help explain sex-specific differences in disease risk, development, progression, and response to therapy, and could help guide therapeutic strategies in men and women.
In the study, published June 23, 2020 in Cell Reports, the multidisciplinary research team modeled gene regulatory networks in 29 tissues, using data from nearly 500 participants in the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project, according to Camila Lopes-Ramos, Department research scientist and first author of the study. Analyzing the resulting set of almost 8,300 networks, the scientists found that, in most tissues, the network of factors that control gene expression differs between women and men. DeMeo noted that sex-based differences in gene regulation involve genes that play a role in diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cardiomyopathy.
Addressing the mechanisms of sex and gender differences will be essential for 21st century scientific and medical innovation, according to the authors. They wrote that the new findings “underline the importance of considering systems-level differences in gene regulation to understand how sex differences may contribute to health and disease.”
Read a GenomeWeb article about the study: Tissue Network Analysis Points to Significant Sex-Related Regulatory Differences