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A transcriptome-wide Mendelian randomization study to uncover tissue-dependent regulatory mechanisms across the human phenome

By Tom G Richardson, Gibran Hemani, Tom Gaunt, Caroline L. Relton, George Davey Smith

Posted 28 Feb 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/563379 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13921-9)

Background: Developing insight into tissue-specific transcriptional mechanisms can help improve our understanding of how genetic variants exert their effects on complex traits and disease. By applying the principles of Mendelian randomization, we have undertaken a systematic analysis to evaluate transcriptome-wide associations between gene expression across 48 different tissue types and 395 complex traits. Results: Overall, we identified 100,025 gene-trait associations based on conventional genome-wide corrections (P < 5 x 10-08) that also provided evidence of genetic colocalization. These results indicated that genetic variants which influence gene expression levels in multiple tissues are more likely to influence multiple complex traits. We identified many examples of tissue-specific effects, such as genetically-predicted TPO, NR3C2 and SPATA13 expression only associating with thyroid disease in thyroid tissue. Additionally, FBN2 expression was associated with both cardiovascular and lung function traits, but only when analysed in heart and lung tissue respectively. We also demonstrate that conducting phenome-wide evaluations of our results can help flag adverse on-target side effects for therapeutic intervention, as well as propose drug repositioning opportunities. Moreover, we find that exploring the tissue-dependency of associations identified by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can help elucidate the causal genes and tissues responsible for effects, as well as uncover putative novel associations. Conclusions: The atlas of tissue-dependent associations we have constructed should prove extremely valuable to future studies investigating the genetic determinants of complex disease. The follow-up analyses we have performed in this study are merely a guide for future research. Conducting similar evaluations can be undertaken systematically at http://mrcieu.mrsoftware.org/Tissue_MR_atlas/.

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