Sex differences in gene expression and regulatory networks across twenty-nine human tissues

Sex differences manifest in many diseases and may drive sex-specific therapeutic responses. To understand the molecular basis of sex differences, we evaluated sex-biased gene regulation by constructing sample-specific gene regulatory networks in 29 human healthy tissues using 8,279 whole-genome expression profiles from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project. We find sex-biased regulatory network structures in each tissue. Even though most transcription factors (TFs) are not differentially expressed between males and females, many have sex-biased regulatory targeting patterns. In each tissue, genes that are differentially targeted by TFs between the sexes are enriched for tissue-related functions and diseases. In brain tissue, for example, genes associated with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease are targeted by different sets of TFs in each sex. Our systems-based analysis identifies a repertoire of TFs that play important roles in sex-specific architecture of gene regulatory networks, and it underlines sex-specific regulatory processes in both health and disease.

Cell Reports