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Identifying therapeutic drug targets for rare and common forms of short stature

By Karol Estrada, Steven Froelich, Arthur Wuster, Christopher R. Bauer, Teague Sterling, Wyatt T. Clark, Yuanbin Ru, Marena Trinidad, Hong Phuc Nguyen, Amanda R Luu, Daniel J. Wendt, Gouri Yogalingam, Guoying Karen Yu, Jonathan H. LeBowitz, Lon R. Cardon

Posted 03 Apr 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.02.022624

While GWAS of common diseases has delivered thousands of novel genetic findings, prioritizing genes for translation to therapeutics has been challenging. Here, we propose an approach to resolve that issue by identifying genes that have both gain of function (GoF) and loss of function (LoF) mutations associated with opposing effects on phenotype (Bidirectional Effect Selected Targets, BEST). Bidirectionality is a desirable feature of the best targets because it implies both a causal role on the phenotype in one direction and that modulating the target activity might be safe and therapeutically beneficial in the other. We used height, a highly heritable trait and a model of complex diseases, to test our approach. Using 34,231 individuals with exome sequence data and height, we identified five genes (IGF1R, NPPC, NPR2, FGFR3, and SHOX) with evidence for bidirectional effects on stature. Rare protein-altering variants significantly increased risk for idiopathic short stature (ISS) (OR=2.75, p= 3.99 x10-8). These genes are key members of the only two pathways successfully targeted for short stature: Growth Hormone/Insulin-like growth factor 1 axis and C-type Natriuretic peptide (CNP) for Achondroplasia, a monogenic form of dwarfism. We assayed a subset of NPR2 mutations and identified those with elevated (GoF) and diminished (LoF) activity and found that a polygenic score for height modulates the penetrance of pathogenic variants. We also demonstrated that adding exogenous CNP (encoded by NPPC) rescues the NPR2 haploinsufficiency molecular phenotype in a CRISPR-engineered cell line, thus validating its potential therapeutic treatment for inherited forms of short stature. Finally, we found that these BEST targets increase the probability of success in clinical trials above and beyond targets with other genetic evidence. Our results show the value of looking for bidirectional effects to identify and validate drug targets.

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