An association analysis between psychophysical characteristics and genome-wide gene expression changes in human adaptation to the extreme climate at the Antarctic Dome Argus


Genome-wide gene expression measurements have enabled comprehensive studies that integrate the changes of gene expression and phenotypic information to uncover their novel associations. Here we reported the association analysis between psychophysical phenotypes and genome-wide gene expression changes in human adaptation to one of the most extreme climates on Earth, the Antarctic Dome Argus. Dome A is the highest ice feature in Antarctica, and may be the coldest, driest and windiest location on earth. It is considered unapproachable due to its hostile environment. In 2007, a Chinese team of 17 male explorers made the expedition to Dome A for scientific investigation. Overall, 133 psychophysical phenotypes were recorded, and genome-wide gene expression profiles from the blood samples of the explorers were measured before their departure and upon their arrival at Dome A. We found that mood disturbances, including tension (anxiety), depression, anger and fatigue, had a strong, positive, linear relationship with the level of a male sex hormone, testosterone, using the Pearson correlation coefficient (PCC) analysis. We also demonstrated that significantly lowest-level Gene Ontology groups in changes of gene expression in blood cells with erythrocyte removal were consistent with the adaptation of the psychophysical characteristics. Interestingly, we discovered a list of genes that were strongly related to significant phenotypes using phenotype and gene expression PCC analysis. Importantly, among the 70 genes that were identified, most were significantly related to mood disturbances, where 42 genes have been reported in the literature mining, suggesting that the other 28 genes were likely novel genes involved in the mood disturbance mechanism. Taken together, our association analysis provides a reliable method to uncover novel genes and mechanisms related to phenotypes, although further studies are needed.

Molecular Psychiatry