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PLoS Genet. 2011 Feb 3;7(2):e1001292. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001292.

A study of CNVs as trait-associated polymorphisms and as expression quantitative trait loci.

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  • 1Section of Genetic Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


We conducted a comprehensive study of copy number variants (CNVs) well-tagged by SNPs (r(2)≥ 0.8) by analyzing their effect on gene expression and their association with disease susceptibility and other complex human traits. We tested whether these CNVs were more likely to be functional than frequency-matched SNPs as trait-associated loci or as expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) influencing phenotype by altering gene regulation. Our study found that CNV-tagging SNPs are significantly enriched for cis eQTLs; furthermore, we observed that trait associations from the NHGRI catalog show an overrepresentation of SNPs tagging CNVs relative to frequency-matched SNPs. We found that these SNPs tagging CNVs are more likely to affect multiple expression traits than frequency-matched variants. Given these findings on the functional relevance of CNVs, we created an online resource of expression-associated CNVs (eCNVs) using the most comprehensive population-based map of CNVs to inform future studies of complex traits. Although previous studies of common CNVs that can be typed on existing platforms and/or interrogated by SNPs in genome-wide association studies concluded that such CNVs appear unlikely to have a major role in the genetic basis of several complex diseases examined, our findings indicate that it would be premature to dismiss the possibility that even common CNVs may contribute to complex phenotypes and at least some common diseases.

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