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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A comprehensive functional analysis of tissue specificity of human gene expression

Zoltán Dezső1*, Yuri Nikolsky1, Evgeny Sviridov2, Weiwei Shi1, Tatiana Serebriyskaya2, Damir Dosymbekov2, Andrej Bugrim1, Eugene Rakhmatulin1, Richard J Brennan1, Alexey Guryanov2, Kelly Li3, Julie Blake3, Raymond R Samaha3 and Tatiana Nikolskaya2

Author Affiliations

1 GeneGo, Inc. Renaissance Drive, St. Joseph, MI 49085, USA

2 Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Gubkina Str, Moscow, Russia

3 Applied Biosystems, Inc, Lincoln Center Drive, Foster City, CA 94404, USA

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:49  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-49

Published: 12 November 2008



In recent years, the maturation of microarray technology has allowed the genome-wide analysis of gene expression patterns to identify tissue-specific and ubiquitously expressed ('housekeeping') genes. We have performed a functional and topological analysis of housekeeping and tissue-specific networks to identify universally necessary biological processes, and those unique to or characteristic of particular tissues.


We measured whole genome expression in 31 human tissues, identifying 2374 housekeeping genes expressed in all tissues, and genes uniquely expressed in each tissue. Comprehensive functional analysis showed that the housekeeping set is substantially larger than previously thought, and is enriched with vital processes such as oxidative phosphorylation, ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis, translation and energy metabolism. Network topology of the housekeeping network was characterized by higher connectivity and shorter paths between the proteins than the global network. Ontology enrichment scoring and network topology of tissue-specific genes were consistent with each tissue's function and expression patterns clustered together in accordance with tissue origin. Tissue-specific genes were twice as likely as housekeeping genes to be drug targets, allowing the identification of tissue 'signature networks' that will facilitate the discovery of new therapeutic targets and biomarkers of tissue-targeted diseases.


A comprehensive functional analysis of housekeeping and tissue-specific genes showed that the biological function of housekeeping and tissue-specific genes was consistent with tissue origin. Network analysis revealed that tissue-specific networks have distinct network properties related to each tissue's function. Tissue 'signature networks' promise to be a rich source of targets and biomarkers for disease treatment and diagnosis.