Functional Contexts of Adipose and Gluteal Muscle Tissue Gene Co-expression Networks in the Domestic Horse

Robert J Schaefer, Jonah Cullen, Jane Manfredi, Molly E. McCue

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Synopsis A gene's response to an environment is tightly bound to the underlying genetic variation present in an individual s genome and varies greatly depending on the tissue it is being expressed in. Gene co-expression networks provide a mechanism to understand and interpret the collective transcriptional responses of genes. Here, we use the Camoco co-expression network framework to characterize the transcriptional landscape of adipose and gluteal muscle tissue in 83 domestic horses (Equus caballus) representing 5 different breeds. In each tissue, gene expression profiles, capturing transcriptional response due to variation across individuals, were used to build two separate, tissue-focused, genotypically-diverse gene co-expression networks. The aim of our study was to identify significantly co-expressed clusters of genes in each tissue, then compare the clusters across networks to quantify the extent that clusters were found in both networks as well as to identify clusters found in a single network. The known and unknown functions for each network were quantified using complementary, supervised, and unsupervised approaches. First, supervised ontological enrichment was utilized to quantify biological functions represented by each network. Curated ontologies (gene ontology [GO] and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Gene and Genomes [KEGG]) were used to measure the known biological functions present in each tissue. Overall, a large percentage of terms (40.3% of GO and 41% of KEGG) were coexpressed in at least one tissue. Many terms were co-expressed in both tissues; however, a small proportion of terms exhibited single tissue co-expression suggesting functional differentiation based on curated, functional annotation. To complement this, an unsupervised approach not relying on ontologies was employed. Strongly co-expressed sets of genes defined by Markov clustering identified sets of unannotated genes showing similar patterns of co-expression within a tissue. We compared gene sets across tissues and identified clusters of genes the either segregate in co-expression by tissue or exhibit high levels of co-expression in both tissues. Clusters were also integrated with GO and KEGG ontologies to identify gene sets containing previously curated annotations versus unannotated gene sets indicating potentially novel biological function. Coupling together these transcriptional datasets, we mapped the transcriptional landscape of muscle and adipose setting up a generalizable framework for interpreting gene function for additional tissues in the horse and other species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-249
Number of pages12
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Morris Animal Foundation (grant number D14EQ-401) and USDA NIFA AFRI (grant number 2017-67015-26296). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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