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Study Description

Lay Description

The aim of the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Project is to increase our understanding of how changes in our genes affect human health and disease with the ultimate goal of improving health care for future generations. It was launched in 2010 as a two-year pilot project supported by the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health (NIH). GTEx will create a database that researchers can use to study how inherited changes in genes lead to common diseases.

GTEx researchers are studying genes in different tissues obtained from many different people. The GTEx project also includes a study to explore the effectiveness of the GTEx donor consent process - this study will help ensure that the consent process and other aspects of the project effectively address the concerns and expectations of participants in the study. GTEx is a pioneering project that uses state-of-the-art protocols for obtaining and storing a large range of organs and tissues and for testing them in the lab. Until now, no project has analyzed genetic variation and expression in as many tissues in such a large population as planned for GTEx.

Scientific Description

Understanding the role of variation in the human genome is crucial to elucidating genetic contributions to human health and disease. Despite the results of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) documenting strong statistical associations between genetic variation and human traits, the functional role for most of these variants is largely unexplained. Nearly 90% of these GWAS-implicated sites lie outside of protein-coding sequences, suggesting that these variants might regulate gene expression.

The goal of the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project is to establish a resource database in which to study the relationship between genetic variation and gene expression in reference/non-diseased tissues. The ultimate resource would include up to 1,000 post-mortem donors with several dozen tissues from each, a resource large enough to study both cis- and trans- gene expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). Some tissue will also be banked for additional molecular analyses.

GTEx was funded as a 2-year pilot project by the NIH Common Fund (CF), and will assess the feasibility of collecting high-quality RNA from multiple tissues from healthy donors. The project will collect and analyze RNA levels in 30 or more different human tissues from 160 postmortem donors and 5 tissues from a similar number of surgical controls. Each donor will be characterized for germline genetic variation through dense genotyping arrays.

By treating RNA expression levels as quantitative traits, eQTLs will be identified as sites containing genetic variation that correlate with changes in RNA expression. Such eQTLs have been associated with 4%-12% of expressed human genes, and with common complex human diseases, including obesity, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, and asthma. Additionally, few studies have examined the tissue specificity of eQTLs. The GTEx project will thus serve as a resource database and tissue bank for many future studies, especially for understanding the functional basis of inherited susceptibility to disease.

It is anticipated that GTEx data will be made available through dbGaP on a periodic basis as it is generated.

Authorized Access
Publicly Available Data (Public ftp)

Connect to the public download site. The site contains release notes and manifests. If available, the site also contains data dictionaries, variable summaries, documents, and truncated analyses.

Study Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

Donor Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria are as follows:

  1. 21 ≤ Age (years) ≤ 70
  2. 18.5 < BMI < 35
  3. Time between death and tissue collection less than 24 hours
  4. No whole blood transfusion within 48 hours prior to death
  5. No metastatic cancer
  6. No chemotherapy or radiation therapy within the 2 years prior to death
  7. Generally unselected for presence or absence of diseases or disorders, except for potentially communicable diseases that disqualify someone to donate organs or tissues would also be disqualifying for GTEx.

Molecular Data
TypeSourcePlatformNumber of Oligos/SNPsSNP Batch IdComment
Whole Genome Genotyping Illumina HumanOmni5-Quad 4301332 N/A
RNA Sequencing Illumina HiSeq 2000 N/A N/A Indexed, 76bp, paired-end run
Gene Expression Affymetrix GeneChip Human Exon 1.0 ST Array N/A N/A
Study History

June 2008 - GTEx Planning Workshop held in Bethesda, MD
July 2010 - Laboratory, Data Analysis, and Coordinating Center awarded
August 2010 - Biospecimen Source Sites awarded
September 2010 - Statistical methods development R01 awards made
December 2010 - First donor enrolled comparing collection methods
May 2011 - First donors enrolled under full protocol

Selected publications
Diseases/Traits Related to Study (MESH terms)
Authorized Data Access Requests
Study Attribution