Of mice and men: divergence of gene expression patterns in kidney

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e46876. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046876. Epub 2012 Oct 3.


Since the development of methods for homologous gene recombination, mouse models have played a central role in research in renal pathophysiology. However, many published and unpublished results show that mice with genetic changes mimicking human pathogenic mutations do not display the human phenotype. These functional differences may stem from differences in gene expression between mouse and human kidneys. However, large scale comparison of gene expression networks revealed conservation of gene expression among a large panel of human and mouse tissues including kidneys. Because renal functions result from the spatial integration of elementary processes originating in the glomerulus and the successive segments constituting the nephron, we hypothesized that differences in gene expression profiles along the human and mouse nephron might account for different behaviors. Analysis of SAGE libraries generated from the glomerulus and seven anatomically defined nephron segments from human and mouse kidneys allowed us to identify 4644 pairs of gene orthologs expressed in either one or both species. Quantitative analysis shows that many transcripts are present at different levels in the two species. It also shows poor conservation of gene expression profiles, with less than 10% of the 4644 gene orthologs displaying a higher conservation of expression profiles than the neutral expectation (p<0.05). Accordingly, hierarchical clustering reveals a higher degree of conservation of gene expression patterns between functionally unrelated kidney structures within a given species than between cognate structures from the two species. Similar findings were obtained for sub-groups of genes with either kidney-specific or housekeeping functions. Conservation of gene expression at the scale of the whole organ and divergence at the level of its constituting sub-structures likely account for the fact that although kidneys assume the same global function in the two species, many mouse "models" of human pathologies do not display the expected phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Kidney / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcriptome*

Grant support

Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-06-PHYSIO-035-01). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.