Absence epilepsy (AE) is a complex, heritable disease characterized by a brief disruption of normal behavior and accompanying spike-wave discharges (SWD) on the electroencephalogram. Only a handful of genes has been definitively associated with AE in humans and rodent models. Most studies suggest that genetic interactions play a large role in the etiology and severity of AE, but mapping and understanding their architecture remains a challenge, requiring new computational approaches. Here we use combined analysis of pleiotropy and epistasis (CAPE) to detect and interpret genetic interactions in a meta-population derived from three C3H × B6J strain crosses, each of which is fixed for a different SWD-causing mutation. Although each mutation causes SWD through a different molecular mechanism, the phenotypes caused by each mutation are exacerbated on the C3H genetic background compared with B6J, suggesting common modifiers. By combining information across two phenotypic measures - SWD duration and frequency - CAPE showed a large, directed genetic network consisting of suppressive and enhancing interactions between loci on 10 chromosomes. These results illustrate the power of CAPE in identifying novel modifier loci and interactions in a complex neurological disease, toward a more comprehensive view of its underlying genetic architecture.
Keywords: Complex trait; epilepsy; epistasis; genetic interaction; genetic network; mouse model; pleiotropy; quantitative trait analysis; spike-wave discharge; statistical genetics.
© 2014 The Authors. Genes, Brain and Behavior published by International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.