Characterizing Gene Expression in Human Tissues to Better Understand Sex Differences in Health and Disease
The regulation of gene expression, timing, location, and amount of a given project, ultimately affects the cellular structure and function. More broadly, gene regulation is the basis for cellular differentiation and development. However, gene expression is not uniform among individuals and varies greatly between genetic males and females. Males are hemizygous for the X chromosome, whereas females have two X chromosome copies. Contributing to the sex differences in gene expression between males and females are the sex chromosomes, X and Y. Gene expression differences on the autosomes and the X chromosome between males (46, XY) and females (46, XX) may help inform on the mechanisms of sex differences in human health and disease. For example, XX females are more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases, and genetic XY males are more likely to develop cancer. Characterizing sex-specific gene expression among human tissues will help inform the molecular mechanisms driving sex differences in human health and disease. This dissertation covers a range of critical aspects in gene expression. In chapter 1, I will introduce a method to align RNA-Seq reads to a sex chromosome complement informed reference genome that considers the X and Y chromosomes' shared evolutionary history. Using this approach, I show that more genes are called as sex differentially expressed in several human adult tissues compared to a default reference alignment. In chapter 2, I characterize gene expression in an early formed tissue, the human placenta. The placenta is the DNA of the developing fetus and is typically XY male or XX female. There are well-documented sex differences in pregnancy complications, yet, surprisingly, there is no observable sex difference in expression of innate immune genes, suggesting expression of these genes is conserved. In chapter 3, I investigate gene expression in breast cancer cell lines. Cancer arises in part due to the disruption of gene expression. Here I show 19 tumor suppressor genes become upregulated in response to a synthetic protein treatment. In chapter 4, I discuss gene and allele-specific expression in Nasonia jewel wasp. Chapter 4 is a replication and extension study and discusses the importance of reproducibility.