Although similarities in gene expression among tissues are commonly inferred to reflect functional constraints, this has never been formally tested. Furthermore, it is unclear which evolutionary processes are responsible for the observed similarities. When examining genome-wide expression data in mouse, we found that patterns of expression similarity between tissues extend to genes that are unlikely to function in the tissues. Thus, ectopic expression can seem coordinated across tissues. This indicates that knowledge of gene expression patterns per se is insufficient to infer gene function. Ectopic expression is possibly explained as expression leakage, caused by spreading of chromatin modifications or the transcription apparatus into neighboring genes.
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