Recent genetical genomics studies have provided intimate views on gene regulatory networks. Gene expression variations between genetically different individuals have been mapped to the causal regulatory regions, termed expression quantitative trait loci. Whether the environment-induced plastic response of gene expression also shows heritable difference has not yet been studied. Here we show that differential expression induced by temperatures of 16 gr. C and 24 gr 8 C has a strong genetic component in Caenorhabditis elegans recombinant inbred strains derived from a cross between strains CB4856 (Hawaii) and N2 (Bristol). No less than 59% of 308 trans-acting genes showed a significant eQTL-by-environment interaction, here termed plasticity quantitative trait loci. In contrast, only 8% of an estimated 188 cis-acting genes showed such interaction. This indicates that heritable differences in plastic responses of gene expression are largely regulated in trans. This regulation is spread over many different regulators. However, for one group of trans-genes we found prominent evidence for a common master regulator: a transband of 66 coregulated genes appeared at 24 8C. Our results suggest widespread genetic variation of differential expression responses to environmental impacts and demonstrate the potential of genetical genomics for mapping the molecular determinants of phenotypic plasticity.
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