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Detecting genome-wide directional effects of transcription factor binding on polygenic disease risk

By Yakir A. Reshef, HK Finucane, David R. Kelley, Alexander Gusev, Dylan Kotliar, Jacob C Ulirsch, Farhad Hormozdiari, Joseph Nasser, Luke O’Connor, Bryce van de Geijn, Po-Ru Loh, Shari Grossman, Gaurav Bhatia, Steven Gazal, Pier Francesco Palamara, Luca Pinello, Nick Patterson, Ryan P Adams, Alkes L. Price

Posted 17 Oct 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/204685 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41588-018-0196-7)

Biological interpretation of GWAS data frequently involves analyzing unsigned genomic annotations comprising SNPs involved in a biological process and assessing enrichment for disease signal. However, it is often possible to generate signed annotations quantifying whether each SNP allele promotes or hinders a biological process, e.g., binding of a transcription factor (TF). Directional effects of such annotations on disease risk enable stronger statements about causal mechanisms of disease than enrichments of corresponding unsigned annotations. Here we introduce a new method, signed LD profile regression, for detecting such directional effects using GWAS summary statistics, and we apply the method using 382 signed annotations reflecting predicted TF binding. We show via theory and simulations that our method is well-powered and is well-calibrated even when TF binding sites co-localize with other enriched regulatory elements, which can confound unsigned enrichment methods. We further validate our method by showing that it recovers known transcriptional regulators when applied to molecular QTL in blood. We then apply our method to eQTL in 48 GTEx tissues, identifying 651 distinct TF-tissue expression associations at per-tissue FDR<5%, including 30 associations with robust evidence of tissue specificity. Finally, we apply our method to 46 diseases and complex traits (average N=289,617) and identify 77 annotation-trait associations at per-trait FDR<5% representing 12 independent TF-trait associations, and we conduct gene-set enrichment analyses to characterize the underlying transcriptional programs. Our results implicate new causal disease genes (including causal genes at known GWAS loci), and in some cases suggest a detailed mechanism for a causal gene's effect on disease. Our method provides a new way to leverage functional data to draw inferences about disease etiology.

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