Background: The use of gene expression in venous blood either as a pharmacodynamic marker in clinical trials of drugs or as a diagnostic test requires knowledge of the variability in expression over time in healthy volunteers. Here we defined a normal range of gene expression over 6 months in the blood of four cohorts of healthy men and women who were stratified by age (22-55 years and > 55 years) and gender.
Methods: Eleven immunomodulatory genes likely to play important roles in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and infection in addition to four genes typically used as reference genes were examined by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), as well as the full genome as represented by Affymetrix HG U133 Plus 2.0 microarrays.
Results: Gene expression levels as assessed by qRT-PCR and microarray were relatively stable over time with approximately 2% of genes as measured by microarray showing intra-subject differences over time periods longer than one month. Fifteen genes varied by gender. The eleven genes examined by qRT-PCR remained within a limited dynamic range for all individuals. Specifically, for the seven most stably expressed genes (CXCL1, HMOX1, IL1RN, IL1B, IL6R, PTGS2, and TNF), 95% of all samples profiled fell within 1.5-2.5 Ct, the equivalent of a 4- to 6-fold dynamic range. Two subjects who experienced severe adverse events of cancer and anemia, had microarray gene expression profiles that were distinct from normal while subjects who experienced an infection had only slightly elevated levels of inflammatory markers.
Conclusion: This study defines the range and variability of gene expression in healthy men and women over a six-month period. These parameters can be used to estimate the number of subjects needed to observe significant differences from normal gene expression in clinical studies. A set of genes that varied by gender was also identified as were a set of genes with elevated expression in a subject with iron deficiency anemia and another subject being treated for lung cancer.