Global gene-expression analysis has shown remarkable difference between males and females in response to exposure to many diseases. Nevertheless, gene expression studies in asthmatics have so far focused on sex-combined analysis, ignoring inherent variabilities between the sexes, which potentially drive disparities in asthma prevalence. The objectives of this study were to identify (1) sex-specific differentially expressed genes (DEGs), (2) genes that show sex-interaction effects and (3) sex-specific pathways and networks enriched in asthma risk. We analyzed 711 males and 689 females and more than 2.8 million transcripts covering 20 000 genes leveraged from five different tissues and cell types (i.e. epithelial, blood, induced sputum, T cells and lymphoblastoids). Using tissue-specific meta-analysis, we identified 439 male-and 297 female-specific DEGs in all cell types, with 32 genes in common. By linking DEGs to the genome-wide association study (GWAS) catalog and the lung and blood eQTL annotation data from GTEx, we identified four male-specific genes (FBXL7, ITPR3 and RAD51B from epithelial tissue and ALOX15 from blood) and one female-specific gene (HLA-DQA1 from epithelial tissue) that are disregulated during asthma. The hypoxia-inducible factor 1 signaling pathway was enriched only in males, and IL-17 and chemokine signaling pathways were enriched in females. The cytokine-cytokine signaling pathway was enriched in both sexes. The presence of sex-specific genes and pathways demonstrates that sex-combined analysis does not identify genes preferentially expressed in each sex in response to diseases. Linking DEG and molecular eQTLs to GWAS catalog represents an important avenue for identifying biologically and clinically relevant genes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology