Differential allelic expression in the human genome: a robust approach to identify genetic and epigenetic cis-acting mechanisms regulating gene expression

PLoS Genet. 2008 Feb 29;4(2):e1000006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000006.


The recent development of whole genome association studies has lead to the robust identification of several loci involved in different common human diseases. Interestingly, some of the strongest signals of association observed in these studies arise from non-coding regions located in very large introns or far away from any annotated genes, raising the possibility that these regions are involved in the etiology of the disease through some unidentified regulatory mechanisms. These findings highlight the importance of better understanding the mechanisms leading to inter-individual differences in gene expression in humans. Most of the existing approaches developed to identify common regulatory polymorphisms are based on linkage/association mapping of gene expression to genotypes. However, these methods have some limitations, notably their cost and the requirement of extensive genotyping information from all the individuals studied which limits their applications to a specific cohort or tissue. Here we describe a robust and high-throughput method to directly measure differences in allelic expression for a large number of genes using the Illumina Allele-Specific Expression BeadArray platform and quantitative sequencing of RT-PCR products. We show that this approach allows reliable identification of differences in the relative expression of the two alleles larger than 1.5-fold (i.e., deviations of the allelic ratio larger than 60:40) and offers several advantages over the mapping of total gene expression, particularly for studying humans or outbred populations. Our analysis of more than 80 individuals for 2,968 SNPs located in 1,380 genes confirms that differential allelic expression is a widespread phenomenon affecting the expression of 20% of human genes and shows that our method successfully captures expression differences resulting from both genetic and epigenetic cis-acting mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Allelic Imbalance
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Introns
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • RNA, Messenger