Sex-differences in human liver gene expression were characterized on a genome-wide scale using a large liver sample collection, allowing for detection of small expression differences with high statistical power. 1,249 sex-biased genes were identified, 70% showing higher expression in females. Chromosomal bias was apparent, with female-biased genes enriched on chrX and male-biased genes enriched on chrY and chr19, where 11 male-biased zinc-finger KRAB-repressor domain genes are distributed in six clusters. Top biological functions and diseases significantly enriched in sex-biased genes include transcription, chromatin organization and modification, sexual reproduction, lipid metabolism and cardiovascular disease. Notably, sex-biased genes are enriched at loci associated with polygenic dyslipidemia and coronary artery disease in genome-wide association studies. Moreover, of the 8 sex-biased genes at these loci, 4 have been directly linked to monogenic disorders of lipid metabolism and show an expression profile in females (elevated expression of ABCA1, APOA5 and LDLR; reduced expression of LIPC) that is consistent with the lower female risk of coronary artery disease. Female-biased expression was also observed for CYP7A1, which is activated by drugs used to treat hypercholesterolemia. Several sex-biased drug-metabolizing enzyme genes were identified, including members of the CYP, UGT, GPX and ALDH families. Half of 879 mouse orthologs, including many genes of lipid metabolism and homeostasis, show growth hormone-regulated sex-biased expression in mouse liver, suggesting growth hormone might play a similar regulatory role in human liver. Finally, the evolutionary rate of protein coding regions for human-mouse orthologs, revealed by dN/dS ratio, is significantly higher for genes showing the same sex-bias in both species than for non-sex-biased genes. These findings establish that human hepatic sex differences are widespread and affect diverse cell metabolic processes, and may help explain sex differences in lipid profiles associated with sex differential risk of coronary artery disease.
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