Extreme context specificity in differential allelic expression.
Wilkins JM., Southam L., Price AJ., Mustafa Z., Carr A., Loughlin J.
Variability in cis-regulation of gene expression has been implicated in the phenotypic manifestation of complex traits including common, multifactorial diseases. The differential expression of alleles due to polymorphism in cis-regulatory elements is common in the human genome, but there is a paucity of information about the context specificity of these control elements. In this study, we examined the differential allelic expression (DAE) of BMP5 in human mesenchymal tissues obtained from 16 donors undergoing joint replacement for treatment of osteoarthritis. We observed significant differences in BMP5 allelic output, with allelic ratios greater than 4:1 (P < 10(-20)) in the tissues of some donors. We also discovered a significant variability in allelic expression within the different tissues of donors. For 12 of our donors, we examined the allelic expression of BMP5 in two different regions of cartilage: cartilage adjacent to the site of the osteoarthritic lesion and cartilage distal from the lesion. Five of these 12 donors demonstrated highly significant differences (P < or = 10(-8)) in allelic expression between the different regions of their cartilage. Using DAE as a phenotype, we attempted to map tissue-specific cis-regulatory polymorphisms, and we identified a single nucleotide polymorphism located downstream of BMP5, which was significantly associated with DAE in some but not all of the examined tissues. These findings suggest that allelic expression can be highly context specific and that when interrogating the cis-regulatory control of a particular gene, one cannot necessarily assume that allelic expression is conserved across different tissues or even across different regions of the same tissue.