Inferring polymorphism-induced regulatory gene networks active in human lymphocyte cell lines by weighted linear mixed model analysis of multiple RNA-Seq datasets

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 30;8(10):e78868. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078868. eCollection 2013.


Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) contribute to the between-individual expression variation of many genes. A regulatory (trait-associated) SNP is usually located near or within a (host) gene, possibly influencing the gene's transcription or/and post-transcriptional modification. But its targets may also include genes that are physically farther away from it. A heuristic explanation of such multiple-target interferences is that the host gene transfers the SNP genotypic effects to the distant gene(s) by a transcriptional or signaling cascade. These connections between the host genes (regulators) and the distant genes (targets) make the genetic analysis of gene expression traits a promising approach for identifying unknown regulatory relationships. In this study, through a mixed model analysis of multi-source digital expression profiling for 140 human lymphocyte cell lines (LCLs) and the genotypes distributed by the international HapMap project, we identified 45 thousands of potential SNP-induced regulatory relationships among genes (the significance level for the underlying associations between expression traits and SNP genotypes was set at FDR < 0.01). We grouped the identified relationships into four classes (paradigms) according to the two different mechanisms by which the regulatory SNPs affect their cis- and trans- regulated genes, modifying mRNA level or altering transcript splicing patterns. We further organized the relationships in each class into a set of network modules with the cis- regulated genes as hubs. We found that the target genes in a network module were often characterized by significant functional similarity, and the distributions of the target genes in three out of the four networks roughly resemble a power-law, a typical pattern of gene networks obtained from mutation experiments. By two case studies, we also demonstrated that significant biological insights can be inferred from the identified network modules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA*