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A Statistical Framework to Identify Cell Types Whose Genetically Regulated Proportions are Associated with Complex Diseases

By Wei Liu, Wenxuan Deng, Ming Chen, Zihan Dong, Biqing Zhu, Zhaolong Yu, Daiwei Tang, Maor Sauler, Louise V Wain, Michael Cho, Naftali Kaminski, Hongyu Zhao

Posted 01 Mar 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.25.21252462

Finding disease-relevant tissues and cell types can facilitate the identification and investigation of functional genes and variants. In particular, cell type proportions can serve as potential disease predictive biomarkers. Here, we introduce a novel statistical framework, cell-type Wide Association Study (cWAS), that integrates genetic data with transcriptomics data to identify cell types whose genetically regulated proportions (GRPs) are disease/trait-associated. On simulated and real GWAS data, cWAS showed substantial statistical power with newly identified significant GRP associations in disease-associated tissues. More specifically, GRPs of endothelial and myofibroblasts in lung tissue were associated with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, respectively. For breast cancer, the GRP of blood CD8+ T cells was negatively associated with breast cancer (BC) risk as well as survival. Overall, cWAS is a powerful tool to reveal cell types associated with complex diseases mediated by GRPs.

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