Age-dependent changes in mean and variance of gene expression across tissues in a twin cohort

Ana Viñuela*, Andrew A. Brown, Alfonso Buil, Pei Chien Tsai, Matthew N. Davies, Jordana T. Bell, Emmanouil T. Dermitzakis, Timothy D. Spector, Kerrin S. Small

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

62 Scopus citations


Changes in the mean and variance of gene expression with age have consequences for healthy aging and disease development. Age-dependent changes in phenotypic variance have been associated with a decline in regulatory functions leading to increase in disease risk. Here, we investigate age-related mean and variance changes in gene expression measured by RNA-seq of fat, skin, whole blood and derived lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) expression from 855 adult female twins. We see evidence of up to 60% of age effects on transcription levels shared across tissues, and 47% of those on splicing. Using gene expression variance and discordance between genetically identical MZ twin pairs, we identify 137 genes with age-related changes in variance and 42 genes with age-related discordance between co-twins; implying the latter are driven by environmental effects. We identify four eQTLs whose effect on expression is age-dependent (FDR 5%). Combined, these results show a complicated mix of environmental and genetically driven changes in expression with age. Using the twin structure in our data, we show that additive genetic effects explain considerably more of the variance in gene expression than aging, but less that other environmental factors, potentially explaining why reliable expression-derived biomarkers for healthy-aging have proved elusive compared with those derived from methylation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberddx424
Pages (from-to)732-741
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Molecular Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 15 02 2018
Externally publishedYes

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© The Author(s) 2017.


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