Allele-specific KRT1 expression is a complex trait

PLoS Genet. 2006 Jun;2(6):e93. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.0020093. Epub 2006 Jun 9.


The differential expression of alleles occurs commonly in humans and is likely an important genetic factor underlying heritable differences in phenotypic traits. Understanding the molecular basis of allelic expression differences is thus an important challenge. Although many genes have been shown to display differential allelic expression, this is the first study to examine in detail the cumulative effects of multiple cis-regulatory polymorphisms responsible for allele-specific expression differences. We have used a variety of experimental approaches to identify and characterize cis-regulatory polymorphisms responsible for the extreme allele-specific expression differences of keratin-1 (KRT1) in human white blood cells. The combined data from our analyses provide strong evidence that the KRT1 allelic expression differences result from the haplotypic combinations and interactions of five cis-regulatory single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) whose alleles differ in their affinity to bind transcription factors and modulate KRT1 promoter activity. Two of these cis-regulatory SNPs bind transcriptional activators with the alleles on the high-expressing KRT1 haplotype pattern having a higher affinity than the alleles on the low-expressing haplotype pattern. In contrast, the other three cis-regulatory SNPs bind transcriptional inhibitors with the alleles on the low-expressing haplotype pattern having a higher affinity than the alleles on the high-expressing haplotype pattern. Our study provides important new insights into the degree of complexity that the cis-regulatory sequences responsible for allele-specific transcriptional regulation have. These data suggest that allelic expression differences result from the cumulative contribution of multiple DNA sequence polymorphisms, with each having a small effect, and that allele-specific expression can thus be viewed as a complex trait.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • DNA / blood
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Primers
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Keratin-1
  • Keratins / blood
  • Keratins / genetics*
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • DNA Primers
  • KRT1 protein, human
  • Keratin-1
  • Keratins
  • DNA