Gene communities in co-expression networks across different tissues

Abstract

With the recent availability of tissue-specific gene expression data, e.g., provided by the GTEx Consortium, there is interest in comparing gene co-expression patterns across tissues. One promising approach to this problem is to use a multilayer network analysis framework and perform multilayer community detection. Communities in gene co-expression networks reveal groups of genes similarly expressed across individuals, potentially involved in related biological processes responding to specific environmental stimuli or sharing common regulatory variations. We construct a multilayer network in which each of the four layers is an exocrine gland tissue-specific gene co-expression network. We develop methods for multilayer community detection with correlation matrix input and an appropriate null model. Our correlation matrix input method identifies five groups of genes that are similarly co-expressed in multiple tissues (a community that spans multiple layers, which we call a generalist community) and two groups of genes that are co-expressed in just one tissue (a community that lies primarily within just one layer, which we call a specialist community). We further found gene co-expression communities where the genes physically cluster across the genome significantly more than expected by chance (on chromosomes 1 and 11). This clustering hints at underlying regulatory elements determining similar expression patterns across individuals and cell types. We suggest that KRTAP3-1KRTAP3-3, and KRTAP3-5 share regulatory elements in the skin and pancreas. Furthermore, we find that CELA3A and CELA3B share associated expression quantitative trait loci in the pancreas. The results indicate that our multilayer community detection method for correlation matrix input extracts biologically interesting communities of genes.

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