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The architecture of brain co-expression reveals the brain-wide basis of disease susceptibility

By CL Hartl, Gokul Ramaswami, WG Pembroke, S Muller, G Pintacuda, A Saha, Princy Parsana, Alexis Battle, Kasper Lage, DH Geschwind

Posted 05 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.05.965749

Gene networks have proven their utility for elucidating transcriptome structure in the brain, yielding numerous biological insights. Most analyses have focused on expression relationships within a circumspect number of regions - how these relationships vary across a broad array of brain regions is largely unknown. By leveraging RNA-sequencing in 864 samples representing 12 brain regions in a cohort of 131 phenotypically normal individuals, we identify 12 brain-wide, 114 region-specific, and 50 cross-regional co-expression modules. We replicate the majority (81%) of modules in regional microarray datasets. Nearly 40% of expressed genes fall into brain-wide modules corresponding to major cell classes and conserved biological processes. Region-specific modules comprise 25% of expressed genes and correspond to region-specific cell types and processes, such as oxytocin signaling in the hypothalamus, or addiction pathways in the nucleus accumbens. We further leverage these modules to capture cell-type-specific lncRNA and gene isoforms, both of which contribute substantially to regional synaptic diversity. We identify enrichment of neuropsychiatric disease risk variants in brain wide and multi-regional modules, consistent with their broad impact on cell classes, and highlight specific roles in neuronal proliferation and activity-dependent processes. Finally, we examine the manner in which gene co-expression and gene regulatory networks reflect genetic risk, including the recently framed omnigenic model of disease architecture.

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