Significant association signals from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) point to genomic regions of interest. However, for most loci the causative genetic variant remains undefined. Determining expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) in a disease relevant tissue is an excellent approach to zoom in on disease- or trait-associated association signals and hitherto on relevant disease mechanisms. To this end, we explored regulation of gene expression in healthy retina (n = 311) and generated the largest cis-eQTL data set available to date. Genotype- and RNA-Seq data underwent rigorous quality control protocols before FastQTL was applied to assess the influence of genetic markers on local (cis) gene expression. Our analysis identified 403,151 significant eQTL variants (eVariants) that regulate 3,007 genes (eGenes) (Q-Value < 0.05). A conditional analysis revealed 744 independent secondary eQTL signals for 598 of the 3,007 eGenes. Interestingly, 99,165 (24.71%) of all unique eVariants regulate the expression of more than one eGene. Filtering the dataset for eVariants regulating three or more eGenes revealed 96 potential regulatory clusters. Of these, 31 harbour 130 genes which are partially regulated by the same genetic signal. To correlate eQTL and association signals, GWAS data from twelve complex eye diseases or traits were included and resulted in identification of 80 eGenes with potential association. Remarkably, expression of 10 genes is regulated by eVariants associated with multiple eye diseases or traits. In conclusion, we generated a unique catalogue of gene expression regulation in healthy retinal tissue and applied this resource to identify potentially pleiotropic effects in highly prevalent human eye diseases. Our study provides an excellent basis to further explore mechanisms of various retinal disease etiologies.
Bibliographical noteFunding: The work has been supported in part by institutional funds (TG77) of the Institute of Human Genetics Regensburg, Germany, and by a grant from the Helmut Ecker Foundation (Ingolstadt, Germany) to BHFW (No. 05/17). TL received funding from the Hans and Marlies Stock Foundation (01042012). AS was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Eye Institute, USA (ZIAEY000450 and ZIAEY000546). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Data Availability: The eQTL summary statistics (Q-Value < 0.05) and further supplemental data concerning this study are available as download on the website: http://www-huge.uni-regensburg.de/.
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