The transcriptional responses of yeast cells to diverse stresses typically include gene activation and repression. Specific stress defense, citric acid cycle and oxidative phosphorylation genes are activated, whereas protein synthesis genes are coordinately repressed. This view was achieved from comparative transcriptomic experiments delineating sets of genes whose expression greatly changed with specific stresses. Less attention has been paid to the biological significance of 1) consistent, albeit modest, changes in RNA levels across multiple conditions, and 2) the global gene expression correlations observed when comparing numerous genome-wide studies.
To address this, we performed a meta-analysis of 1379 microarray-based experiments in yeast, and identified 1388 blocks of RNAs whose expression changes correlate across multiple and diverse conditions. Many of these blocks represent sets of functionally-related RNAs that act in a coordinated fashion under normal and stress conditions, and map to global cell defense and growth responses. Subsequently, we used the blocks to analyze novel RNA-seq experiments, demonstrating their utility and confirming the conclusions drawn from the meta-analysis.
Our results provide a new framework for understanding the biological significance of changes in gene expression: ‘archetypal’ transcriptional blocks that are regulated in a concerted fashion in response to external stimuli.