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Am J Hum Genet. 2010 Apr 9;86(4):581-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2010.02.020. Epub 2010 Mar 25.

Integrating pathway analysis and genetics of gene expression for genome-wide association studies.

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Rosetta Inpharmatics, LLC, and Merck & Co., Inc., 401 Terry Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109, USA.


Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have achieved great success identifying common genetic variants associated with common human diseases. However, to date, the massive amounts of data generated from GWAS have not been maximally leveraged and integrated with other types of data to identify associations beyond those associations that meet the stringent genome-wide significance threshold. Here, we present a novel approach that leverages information from genetics of gene expression studies to identify biological pathways enriched for expression-associated genetic loci associated with disease in publicly available GWAS results. Specifically, we first identify SNPs in population-based human cohorts that associate with the expression of genes (eSNPs) in the metabolically active tissues liver, subcutaneous adipose, and omental adipose. We then use this functionally annotated set of SNPs to investigate pathways enriched for eSNPs associated with disease in publicly available GWAS data. As an example, we tested 110 pathways from the Kyoto Encylopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) database and identified 16 pathways enriched for genes corresponding to eSNPs that show evidence of association with type 2 diabetes (T2D) in the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC) T2D GWAS. We then replicated these findings in the Diabetes Genetics Replication and Meta-analysis (DIAGRAM) study. Many of the pathways identified have been proposed as important candidate pathways for T2D, including the calcium signaling pathway, the PPAR signaling pathway, and TGF-beta signaling. Importantly, we identified other pathways not previously associated with T2D, including the tight junction, complement and coagulation pathway, and antigen processing and presentation pathway. The integration of pathways and eSNPs provides putative functional bridges between GWAS and candidate genes or pathways, thus serving as a potential powerful approach to identifying biological mechanisms underlying GWAS findings.

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