Several “head-to-head” (or “bidirectional”) gene pairs have been studied in individual experiments, but genome-wide analysis of this gene organization, especially in terms of transcriptional correlation and functional association, is still insufficient. We conducted a systematic investigation of head-to-head gene organization focusing on structural features, evolutionary conservation, expression correlation and functional association. Of the present 1,262, 1,071, and 491 head-to-head pairs identified in human, mouse, and rat genomes, respectively, pairs with 1– to 400–base pair distance between transcription start sites form the majority (62.36%, 64.15%, and 55.19% for human, mouse, and rat, respectively) of each dataset, and the largest group is always the one with a transcription start site distance of 101 to 200 base pairs. The phylogenetic analysis among Fugu, chicken, and human indicates a negative selection on the separation of head-to-head genes across vertebrate evolution, and thus the ancestral existence of this gene organization. The expression analysis shows that most of the human head-to-head genes are significantly correlated, and the correlation could be positive, negative, or alternative depending on the experimental conditions. Finally, head-to-head genes statistically tend to perform similar functions, and gene pairs associated with the significant cofunctions seem to have stronger expression correlations. The findings indicate that the head-to-head gene organization is ancient and conserved, which subjects functionally related genes to correlated transcriptional regulation and thus provides an exquisite mechanism of transcriptional regulation based on gene organization. These results have significantly expanded the knowledge about head-to-head gene organization. Supplementary materials for this study are available at http://www.scbit.org/h2h.
It was commonly assumed that higher eukaryotic genomes are loosely organized and genes are interspersed in the whole genome sequences. However, experiments have continuously identified eukaryotic head-to-head gene pairs with genes located closely next to each other, possibly sharing a same promoter; and preliminary genomic surveys have even proved head-to-head gene pair to be a common feature of human genome. The authors report a systematic investigation of head-to-head gene pairs in terms of the genomic structure, evolutionary conservation, expressional correlation, and functional association. The authors first identified some common structural and distributional patterns in three representative mammalian genomes: human, mouse, and rat. Then, through comparative analyses between human, chicken, and Fugu, they observed a conservation tendency of head-to-head gene pairs in vertebrates. Finally, interactive analyses of expressional and functional association yielded some interesting results, including the significant expression correlation of head-to-head genes, especially for the pairs with significant functional association. The main conclusion of this paper is that the head-to-head gene organization is ancient and conserved, subjecting functionally related genes to coregulated transcription. Lists of head-to-head gene pairs in human, mouse, rat, chicken, and Fugu are provided, while some individual pairs in need of further in-depth investigations are highlighted.