Background: Blood is a complex tissue comprising numerous cell types with distinct functions and corresponding gene expression profiles. We attempted to define the cell type specific gene expression patterns for the major constituent cells of blood, including B-cells, CD4+ T-cells, CD8+ T-cells, lymphocytes and granulocytes. We did this by comparing the global gene expression profiles of purified B-cells, CD4+ T-cells, CD8+ T-cells, granulocytes, and lymphocytes using cDNA microarrays.
Results: Unsupervised clustering analysis showed that similar cell populations from different donors share common gene expression profiles. Supervised analyses identified gene expression signatures for B-cells (427 genes), T-cells (222 genes), CD8+ T-cells (23 genes), granulocytes (411 genes), and lymphocytes (67 genes). No statistically significant gene expression signature was identified for CD4+ cells. Genes encoding cell surface proteins were disproportionately represented among the genes that distinguished among the lymphocyte subpopulations. Lymphocytes were distinguishable from granulocytes based on their higher levels of expression of genes encoding ribosomal proteins, while granulocytes exhibited characteristic expression of various cell surface and inflammatory proteins.
Conclusion: The genes comprising the cell-type specific signatures encompassed many of the genes already known to be involved in cell-type specific processes, and provided clues that may prove useful in discovering the functions of many still unannotated genes. The most prominent feature of the cell type signature genes was the enrichment of genes encoding cell surface proteins, perhaps reflecting the importance of specialized systems for sensing the environment to the physiology of resting leukocytes.