Genetic regulatory signatures underlying islet gene expression and type 2 diabetes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Feb 28;114(9):2301-2306. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1621192114. Epub 2017 Feb 13.


Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified >100 independent SNPs that modulate the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D) and related traits. However, the pathogenic mechanisms of most of these SNPs remain elusive. Here, we examined genomic, epigenomic, and transcriptomic profiles in human pancreatic islets to understand the links between genetic variation, chromatin landscape, and gene expression in the context of T2D. We first integrated genome and transcriptome variation across 112 islet samples to produce dense cis-expression quantitative trait loci (cis-eQTL) maps. Additional integration with chromatin-state maps for islets and other diverse tissue types revealed that cis-eQTLs for islet-specific genes are specifically and significantly enriched in islet stretch enhancers. High-resolution chromatin accessibility profiling using assay for transposase-accessible chromatin sequencing (ATAC-seq) in two islet samples enabled us to identify specific transcription factor (TF) footprints embedded in active regulatory elements, which are highly enriched for islet cis-eQTL. Aggregate allelic bias signatures in TF footprints enabled us de novo to reconstruct TF binding affinities genetically, which support the high-quality nature of the TF footprint predictions. Interestingly, we found that T2D GWAS loci were strikingly and specifically enriched in islet Regulatory Factor X (RFX) footprints. Remarkably, within and across independent loci, T2D risk alleles that overlap with RFX footprints uniformly disrupt the RFX motifs at high-information content positions. Together, these results suggest that common regulatory variations have shaped islet TF footprints and the transcriptome and that a confluent RFX regulatory grammar plays a significant role in the genetic component of T2D predisposition.

Keywords: chromatin; diabetes; eQTL; epigenome; footprint.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Base Sequence
  • Binding Sites
  • Chromatin / chemistry
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Human*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genomic Imprinting
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / pathology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Regulatory Factor X Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Regulatory Factor X Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcriptome*


  • Chromatin
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Regulatory Factor X Transcription Factors