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Variation in tissue-specific gene expression among natural populations

Andrew Whitehead* and Douglas L Crawford

Author affiliations

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149, USA

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Citation and License

Genome Biology 2005, 6:R13  doi:10.1186/gb-2005-6-2-r13

Published: 26 January 2005



Variation in gene expression is extensive among tissues, individuals, strains, populations and species. The interactions among these sources of variation are relevant for physiological studies such as disease or toxic stress; for example, it is common for pathologies such as cancer, heart failure and metabolic disease to be associated with changes in tissue-specific gene expression or changes in metabolic gene expression. But how conserved these differences are among outbred individuals and among populations has not been well documented. To address this we examined the expression of a selected suite of 192 metabolic genes in brain, heart and liver in three populations of the teleost fish Fundulus heteroclitus using a highly replicated experimental design.


Half of the genes (48%) were differentially expressed among individuals within a population-tissue group and 76% were differentially expressed among tissues. Differences among tissues reflected well established tissue-specific metabolic requirements, suggesting that these measures of gene expression accurately reflect changes in proteins and their phenotypic effects. Remarkably, only a small subset (31%) of tissue-specific differences was consistent in all three populations.


These data indicate that many tissue-specific differences in gene expression are unique to one population and thus are unlikely to contribute to fundamental differences between tissue types. We suggest that those subsets of treatment-specific gene expression patterns that are conserved between taxa are most likely to be functionally related to the physiological state in question.