Integrative genomics analyses unveil downstream biological effectors of disease-specific polymorphisms buried in intergenic regions

NPJ Genom Med. 2016;1:16006. doi: 10.1038/npjgenmed.2016.6. Epub 2016 Apr 27.


Functionally altered biological mechanisms arising from disease-associated polymorphisms, remain difficult to characterize when those variants are intergenic, or, fall between genes. We sought to identify shared downstream mechanisms by which inter- and intragenic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) contribute to a specific physiopathology. Using computational modeling of 2 million pairs of disease-associated SNPs drawn from genome wide association studies (GWAS), integrated with expression Quantitative Trait Loci (eQTL) and Gene Ontology functional annotations, we predicted 3,870 inter-intra and inter-intra SNP pairs with convergent biological mechanisms (FDR<0.05). These prioritized SNP pairs with overlapping mRNA targets or similar functional annotations were more likely to be associated with the same disease than unrelated pathologies (OR>12). We additionally confirmed synergistic and antagonistic genetic interactions for a subset of prioritized SNP pairs in independent studies of Alzheimer's disease (entropy p=0.046), bladder cancer (entropy p=0.039), and rheumatoid arthritis (PheWAS case-control p<10-4). Using ENCODE datasets, we further statistically validated that the biological mechanisms shared within prioritized SNP pairs are frequently governed by matching transcription factor binding sites and long-range chromatin interactions. These results provide a "roadmap" of disease mechanisms emerging from GWAS and further identify candidate therapeutic targets among downstream effectors of intergenic SNPs.