Background: A deeper understanding of differences and similarities in transcriptional regulation between species can uncover important information about gene functions and the role of genes in disease. Deciphering such patterns between mice and humans is especially important since mice play an essential role in biomedical research.
Results: Here, in order to characterize evolutionary changes between humans and mice, we compared gene co-expression maps to evaluate the conservation of co-expression. We show that the conservation of co-expression connectivity of homologous genes is negatively correlated with molecular evolution rates, as expected. Then we investigated evolutionary aspects of gene sets related to functions, tissues, pathways and diseases. Genes expressed in the testis, eye and skin, and those associated with regulation of transcription, olfaction, PI3K signalling, response to virus and bacteria were more divergent between mice and humans in terms of co-expression connectivity. Surprisingly, a deeper investigation of the PI3K signalling cascade revealed that its divergence is caused by the most crucial genes of this pathway, such as mTOR and AKT2. On the other hand, our analysis revealed that genes expressed in the brain and in the bone, and those associated with cell adhesion, cell cycle, DNA replication and DNA repair are most strongly conserved in terms of co-expression network connectivity as well as having a lower rate of duplication events. Genes involved in lipid metabolism and genes specific to blood showed a signature of increased co-expression connectivity in the mouse. In terms of diseases, co-expression connectivity of genes related to metabolic disorders is the most strongly conserved between mice and humans and tumor-related genes the most divergent.
Conclusions: This work contributes to discerning evolutionary patterns between mice and humans in terms of gene interactions. Conservation of co-expression is a powerful approach to identify gene targets and processes with potential similarity and divergence between mice and humans, which has implications for drug testing and other studies employing the mouse as a model organism.