Sampling-dependent up-regulation of gene expression in sequential samples of human airway epithelial cells
As part of a study of in vivo gene expression levels in the human airway epithelium in response to chronic cigarette smoking, we have identified a number of genes whose expression levels are altered in a time-dependent fashion resulting from the procedure used to sample epithelial cells. Fiberoptic bronchoscopy and airway epithelium brushing were used to obtain independent samples from a single individual, 1st from the right lung, followed by sampling of the left lung. We observed that a specific subset of early response genes encoding proteins involved in transcription, signal transduction, cell cycle/growth, and apoptosis were significantly up-regulated in the left lung samples (the 2nd region to be sampled) compared with the right lung samples (the 1st region to be sampled). This response was due to the temporal nature of the sampling procedure and not to inherent gene expression differences between airway epithelium of the right and left lungs. When the order of sampling was reversed, with the left airway epithelium sampled 1st, the same subset of genes were up-regulated in the samples obtained from the right airway epithelium. The time-dependent up-regulation of these genes was likely in response to the stress of the procedure and/or the anesthesia used. Sampling-dependent uncertainty of gene expression is likely a general phenomenon relevant to the procedures used for obtaining biological samples, particularly in humans where the sampling procedures are dependent on ensuring comfort and safety.