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Unraveling the polygenic architecture of complex traits using blood eQTL meta-analysis

By Urmo Võsa, Annique Claringbould, Harm-Jan Westra, Marc Jan Bonder, Patrick Deelen, Biao Zeng, Holger Kirsten, Ashis Saha, Roman Kreuzhuber, Silva Kasela, Natalia Pervjakova, Isabel Alvaes, Marie-Julie Fave, Mawusse Agbessi, Mark Christiansen, Rick Jansen, Ilkka Seppälä, Lin Tong, Alexander Teumer, Katharina Schramm, Gibran Hemani, Joost Verlouw, Hanieh Yaghootkar, Reyhan Sönmez, Andrew A. Andrew, Viktorija Kukushkina, Anette Kalnapenkis, Sina Rüeger, Eleonora Porcu, Jaanika Kronberg-Guzman, Johannes Kettunen, Joseph Powell, Bernett Lee, Futao Zhang, Wibowo Arindrarto, Frank Beutner, BIOS Consortium, Harm Brugge, i2QTL Consortium, Julia Dmitrieva, Mahmoud Elansary, Benjamin P. Fairfax, Michel Georges, Bastiaan T. Heijmans, Mika Kähönen, Yungil Kim, Julian C Knight, Peter Kovacs, Knut Krohn, Shuang Li, Markus Loeffler, Urko M Marigorta, Hailang Mei, Yukihide Momozawa, Martina Müller-Nurasyid, Matthias Nauck, Michel Nivard, Brenda Penninx, Jonathan Pritchard, Olli Raitakari, Olaf Rotzschke, Eline P Slagboom, Coen D.A. Stehouwer, Michael Stumvoll, Patrick Sullivan, Peter A.C. 't Hoen, Joachim Thiery, Anke Tönjes, Jenny van Dongen, Maarten van Iterson, Jan Veldink, Uwe Völker, Cisca Wijmenga, Morris Swertz, Anand Andiappan, Grant W. Montgomery, Samuli Ripatti, Markus Perola, Zoltan Kutalik, Emmanouil Dermitzakis, Sven Bergmann, Timothy Frayling, Joyce van Meurs, Holger Prokisch, Habibul Ahsan, Brandon Pierce, Terho Lehtimäki, Dorret Boomsma, Bruce M Psaty, Sina A. Gharib, Philip Awadalla, Lili Milani, Willem H. Ouwehand, Kate Downes, Oliver Stegle, Alexis Battle, Jian Yang, Peter M. Visscher, Markus Scholz, Gregory Gibson, Tõnu Esko, Lude Franke

Posted 19 Oct 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/447367

While many disease-associated variants have been identified through genome-wide association studies, their downstream molecular consequences remain unclear. To identify these effects, we performed cis- and trans-expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) analysis in blood from 31,684 individuals through the eQTLGen Consortium. We observed that cis-eQTLs can be detected for 88% of the studied genes, but that they have a different genetic architecture compared to disease-associated variants, limiting our ability to use cis-eQTLs to pinpoint causal genes within susceptibility loci. In contrast, trans-eQTLs (detected for 37% of 10,317 studied trait-associated variants) were more informative. Multiple unlinked variants, associated to the same complex trait, often converged on trans-genes that are known to play central roles in disease etiology. We observed the same when ascertaining the effect of polygenic scores calculated for 1,263 genome-wide association study (GWAS) traits. Expression levels of 13% of the studied genes correlated with polygenic scores, and many resulting genes are known to drive these traits.

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