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This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the Fourth Annual MCBIOS Conference. Computational Frontiers in Biomedicine

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Gene expression changes induced by the tumorigenic pyrrolizidine alkaloid riddelliine in liver of Big Blue rats

Nan Mei1*, Lei Guo2, Ruqing Liu34, James C Fuscoe2 and Tao Chen1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Genetic and Reproductive Toxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, FDA, Jefferson, AR 72079, USA

2 Division of Systems Toxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, FDA, Jefferson, AR 72079, USA

3 Division of Personalized Nutrition and Medicine, National Center for Toxicological Research, FDA, Jefferson, AR 72079, USA

4 School of Public Health, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510089, P. R. China

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BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8(Suppl 7):S4  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-S7-S4

Published: 1 November 2007



Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are probably the most common plant constituents that poison livestock, wildlife, and humans worldwide. Riddelliine is isolated from plants grown in the western United States and is a prototype of genotoxic PAs. Riddelliine was used to investigate the genotoxic effects of PAs via analysis of gene expression in the target tissue of rats in this study. Previously we observed that the mutant frequency in the liver of rats gavaged with riddelliine was 3-fold higher than that in the control group. Molecular analysis of the mutants indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the mutational spectra from riddelliine-treated and control rats.


Riddelliine-induced gene expression profiles in livers of Big Blue transgenic rats were determined. The female rats were gavaged with riddelliine at a dose of 1 mg/kg body weight 5 days a week for 12 weeks. Rat whole genome microarray was used to perform genome-wide gene expression studies. When a cutoff value of a two-fold change and a P-value less than 0.01 were used as gene selection criteria, 919 genes were identified as differentially expressed in riddelliine-treated rats compared to the control animals. By analysis with the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis Network, we found that these significantly changed genes were mainly involved in cancer, cell death, tissue development, cellular movement, tissue morphology, cell-to-cell signaling and interaction, and cellular growth and proliferation. We further analyzed the genes involved in metabolism, injury of endothelial cells, liver abnormalities, and cancer development in detail.


The alterations in gene expression were directly related to the pathological outcomes reported previously. These results provided further insight into the mechanisms involved in toxicity and carcinogenesis after exposure to riddelliine, and permitted us to investigate the interaction of gene products inside the signaling networks.