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Cell-type specific eQTL of primary melanocytes facilitates identification of melanoma susceptibility genes

By Tongwu Zhang, Jiyeon Choi, Michael A Kovacs, Jianxin Shi, Mai Xu, NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Melanoma, Meta-Analysis Consortium, Alisa M Goldstein, Mark M Iles, David Duffy, Stuart MacGregor, Laufey T Amundadottir, Matthew H Law, Stacie K Loftus, William J. Pavan, Kevin M. Brown

Posted 08 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/231423 (published DOI: 10.1101/gr.233304.117)

Most expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) studies to date have been performed in heterogeneous tissues as opposed to specific cell types. To better understand the cell-type specific regulatory landscape of human melanocytes, which give rise to melanoma but account for <5% of typical human skin biopsies, we performed an eQTL analysis in primary melanocyte cultures from 106 newborn males. We identified 597,335 cis-eQTL SNPs prior to LD-pruning and 4,997 eGenes (FDR<0.05), which are higher numbers than in any GTEx tissue type with a similar sample size. Melanocyte eQTLs differed considerably from those identified in the 44 GTEx tissues, including skin. Over a third of melanocyte eGenes, including key genes in melanin synthesis pathways, were not observed to be eGenes in two types of GTEx skin tissues or TCGA melanoma samples. The melanocyte dataset also identified cell-type specific trans-eQTLs with a pigmentation-associated SNP for four genes, likely through its cis-regulation of IRF4, encoding a transcription factor implicated in human pigmentation phenotypes. Melanocyte eQTLs are enriched in cis-regulatory signatures found in melanocytes as well as melanoma-associated variants identified through genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Co-localization of melanoma GWAS variants and eQTLs from melanocyte and skin eQTL datasets identified candidate melanoma susceptibility genes for six known GWAS loci including unique genes identified by the melanocyte dataset. Further, a transcriptome-wide association study using published melanoma GWAS data uncovered four new loci, where imputed expression levels of five genes (ZFP90, HEBP1, MSC, CBWD1, and RP11-383H13.1) were associated with melanoma at genome-wide significant P-values. Our data highlight the utility of lineage-specific eQTL resources for annotating GWAS findings and present a robust database for genomic research of melanoma risk and melanocyte biology.

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