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Open Access Research article

Identification of gene co-regulatory modules and associated cis-elements involved in degenerative heart disease

Charles G Danko and Arkady M Pertsov*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmacology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY, USA

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BMC Medical Genomics 2009, 2:31  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-2-31

Published: 28 May 2009



Cardiomyopathies, degenerative diseases of cardiac muscle, are among the leading causes of death in the developed world. Microarray studies of cardiomyopathies have identified up to several hundred genes that significantly alter their expression patterns as the disease progresses. However, the regulatory mechanisms driving these changes, in particular the networks of transcription factors involved, remain poorly understood. Our goals are (A) to identify modules of co-regulated genes that undergo similar changes in expression in various types of cardiomyopathies, and (B) to reveal the specific pattern of transcription factor binding sites, cis-elements, in the proximal promoter region of genes comprising such modules.


We analyzed 149 microarray samples from human hypertrophic and dilated cardiomyopathies of various etiologies. Hierarchical clustering and Gene Ontology annotations were applied to identify modules enriched in genes with highly correlated expression and a similar physiological function. To discover motifs that may underly changes in expression, we used the promoter regions for genes in three of the most interesting modules as input to motif discovery algorithms. The resulting motifs were used to construct a probabilistic model predictive of changes in expression across different cardiomyopathies.


We found that three modules with the highest degree of functional enrichment contain genes involved in myocardial contraction (n = 9), energy generation (n = 20), or protein translation (n = 20). Using motif discovery tools revealed that genes in the contractile module were found to contain a TATA-box followed by a CACC-box, and are depleted in other GC-rich motifs; whereas genes in the translation module contain a pyrimidine-rich initiator, Elk-1, SP-1, and a novel motif with a GCGC core. Using a naïve Bayes classifier revealed that patterns of motifs are statistically predictive of expression patterns, with odds ratios of 2.7 (contractile), 1.9 (energy generation), and 5.5 (protein translation).


We identified patterns comprised of putative cis-regulatory motifs enriched in the upstream promoter sequence of genes that undergo similar changes in expression secondary to cardiomyopathies of various etiologies. Our analysis is a first step towards understanding transcription factor networks that are active in regulating gene expression during degenerative heart disease.