Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Transcriptomic responses to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in liver: Comparison of rat and mouse

Paul C Boutros1*, Rui Yan2, Ivy D Moffat1, Raimo Pohjanvirta3 and Allan B Okey1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2008, 9:419  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-419

Published: 16 September 2008



Mouse and rat models are mainstays in pharmacology, toxicology and drug development – but differences between strains and between species complicate data interpretation and application to human health. Dioxin-like polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons represent a major class of environmentally and economically relevant toxicants. In mammals dioxin exposure leads to a broad spectrum of adverse affects, including hepatotoxicity of varying severity. Several studies have shown that dioxins extensively alter hepatic mRNA levels. Surprisingly, though, analysis of a limited portion of the transcriptome revealed that rat and mouse responses diverge greatly (Boverhof et al. Toxicol Sci 94:398–416, 2006).


We employed oligonucleotide arrays to compare the response of 8,125 rat and mouse orthologs. We confirmed that there is limited inter-species overlap in dioxin-responsive genes. Rat-specific and mouse-specific genes are enriched for specific functional groups which differ between species, conceivably accounting for species-specificities in liver histopathology. While no evidence for the involvement of copy-number variation was found, extensive inter-species variation in the transcriptional-regulatory network was identified; Nr2f1 and Fos emerged as candidates to explain species-specific and species-independent responses, respectively.


Our results suggest that a small core of genes is responsible for mediating the similar features of dioxin hepatotoxicity in rats and mice but non-overlapping pathways are simultaneously at play to result in distinctive histopathological outcomes. The extreme divergence between mouse and rat transcriptomic responses appears to reflect divergent transcriptional-regulatory networks. Taken together, these data suggest that both rat and mouse models should be used to screen the acute hepatotoxic effects of drugs and toxic compounds.