Role of duplicate genes in determining the tissue-selectivity of hereditary diseases

Ruth Barshir, Idan Hekselman, Netta Shemesh, Moran Sharon, Lena Novack, Esti Yeger-Lotem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A longstanding puzzle in human genetics is what limits the clinical manifestation of hundreds of hereditary diseases to certain tissues, while their causal genes are expressed throughout the human body. A general conception is that tissue-selective disease phenotypes emerge when masking factors operate in unaffected tissues, but are specifically absent or insufficient in disease-manifesting tissues. Although this conception has critical impact on the understanding of disease manifestation, it was never challenged in a systematic manner across a variety of hereditary diseases and affected tissues. Here, we address this gap in our understanding via rigorous analysis of the susceptibility of over 30 tissues to 112 tissue-selective hereditary diseases. We focused on the roles of paralogs of causal genes, which are presumably capable of compensating for their aberration. We show for the first time at large-scale via quantitative analysis of omics datasets that, preferentially in the disease-manifesting tissues, paralogs are under-expressed relative to causal genes in more than half of the diseases. This was observed for several susceptible tissues and for causal genes with varying number of paralogs, suggesting that imbalanced expression of paralogs increases tissue susceptibility. While for many diseases this imbalance stemmed from up-regulation of the causal gene in the disease-manifesting tissue relative to other tissues, it was often combined with down-regulation of its paralog. Notably in roughly 20% of the cases, this imbalance stemmed only from significant down-regulation of the paralog. Thus, dosage relationships between paralogs appear as important, yet currently under-appreciated, modifiers of disease manifestation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere1007327
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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