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Genetic analysis of isoform usage in the human anti-viral response reveals influenza-specific regulation of ERAP2 transcripts under balancing selection

By Chun Jimmie Ye, Jenny Chen, Alexandra-Chloé Villani, Rachel E Gate, Meena Subramaniam, Tushar Bhangale, Mark N Lee, Towfique Raj, Raktima Raychowdhury, Weibo Li, Noga Rogel, Sean Simmons, Selina H. Imboywa, Portia I Chipendo, Cristin McCabe, Michelle H Lee, Irene Y Frohlich, Barbara E. Stranger, Phillip De Jager, Aviv Regev, Tim Behrens, Nir Hacohen

Posted 14 Sep 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/188961 (published DOI: 10.1101/gr.240390.118)

While the impact of common genetic variants on gene expression response to cellular stimuli has been analyzed in depth, less is known about how stimulation modulates the genetic control of isoform usage. Analyzing RNA-seq profiles of monocyte-derived dendritic cells from 243 individuals, we uncovered thousands of unannotated isoforms synthesized in response to viral infection and stimulation with type I interferon. We identified more than a thousand single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with isoform usage (isoQTLs), > 40% of which are independent of expression QTLs for the same gene. Compared to eQTLs, isoQTLs are enriched for splice sites and untranslated regions, and depleted of sequences upstream of annotated transcription start sites. Both eQTLs and isoQTLs in stimulated cells explain a significant proportion of the disease heritability attributed to common genetic variants. At the IRF7 locus, we found alternative promoter usage in response to influenza as a possible mechanism by which DNA variants previously associated with immune-related disorders mediate disease risk. At the ERAP2 locus, we shed light on the function of the major haplotype that has been maintained under long-term balancing selection. At baseline and following type 1 interferon stimulation, the major haplotype is associated with absence of ERAP2 expression while the minor haplotype, known to increase Crohn's disease risk, is associated with high ERAP2 expression. Surprisingly, in response to influenza infection, the major haplotype results in the expression of two uncharacterized, alternatively transcribed, spliced and translated short isoforms. Thus, genetic variants at a single locus could modulate independent gene regulatory processes in the innate immune response, and in the case of ERAP2, may confer a historical fitness advantage in response to virus.

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