Aging Shapes the Population-Mean and -Dispersion of Gene Expression in Human Brains
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Human aging is associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease. Our objective for this study was to evaluate potential relationships between age and variation in gene expression across different regions of the brain. We analyzed the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) data from 54 to 101 tissue samples across 13 brain regions in post-mortem donors of European descent aged between 20 and 70 years at death. After accounting for the effects of covariates and hidden confounding factors, we identified 1446 protein-coding genes whose expression in one or more brain regions is correlated with chronological age at a false discovery rate of 5%. These genes are involved in various biological processes including apoptosis, mRNA splicing, amino acid biosynthesis, and neurotransmitter transport. The distribution of these genes among brain regions is uneven, suggesting variable regional responses to aging. We also found that the aging response of many genes, e.g., TP37 and C1QA, depends on individuals' genotypic backgrounds. Finally, using dispersion-specific analysis, we identified genes such as IL7R, MS4A4E, and TERF1/TERF2 whose expressions are differentially dispersed by aging, i.e., variances differ between age groups. Our results demonstrate that age-related gene expression is brain region-specific, genotype-dependent, and associated with both mean and dispersion changes. Our findings provide a foundation for more sophisticated gene expression modeling in the studies of age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
author list (cited authors)
Brinkmeyer-Langford, C. L., Guan, J., Ji, G., & Cai, J. J.