DiffBrainNet: Differential analyses add new insights into the response to glucocorticoids at the level of genes, networks and brain regions

Neurobiol Stress. 2022 Oct 14:21:100496. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2022.100496. eCollection 2022 Nov.


Genome-wide gene expression analyses are invaluable tools for studying biological and disease processes, allowing a hypothesis-free comparison of expression profiles. Traditionally, transcriptomic analysis has focused on gene-level effects found by differential expression. In recent years, network analysis has emerged as an important additional level of investigation, providing information on molecular connectivity, especially for diseases associated with a large number of linked effects of smaller magnitude, like neuropsychiatric disorders. Here, we describe how combined differential expression and prior-knowledge-based differential network analysis can be used to explore complex datasets. As an example, we analyze the transcriptional responses following administration of the glucocorticoid/stress receptor agonist dexamethasone in 8 mouse brain regions important for stress processing. By applying a combination of differential network- and expression-analyses, we find that these explain distinct but complementary biological mechanisms of the glucocorticoid responses. Additionally, network analysis identifies new differentially connected partners of risk genes and can be used to generate hypotheses on molecular pathways affected. With DiffBrainNet (http://diffbrainnet.psych.mpg.de), we provide an analysis framework and a publicly available resource for the study of the transcriptional landscape of the mouse brain which can identify molecular pathways important for basic functioning and response to glucocorticoids in a brain-region specific manner.

Keywords: Glucocorticoids; Mouse brain; Network analysis; Stress response; Transcriptomics.