The Post-GWAS Era: From Association to Function

Am J Hum Genet. 2018 May 3;102(5):717-730. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2018.04.002.


During the past 12 years, genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have uncovered thousands of genetic variants that influence risk for complex human traits and diseases. Yet functional studies aimed at delineating the causal genetic variants and biological mechanisms underlying the observed statistical associations with disease risk have lagged. In this review, we highlight key advances in the field of functional genomics that may facilitate the derivation of biological meaning post-GWAS. We highlight the evidence suggesting that causal variants underlying disease risk often function through regulatory effects on the expression of target genes and that these expression effects might be modest and cell-type specific. We moreover discuss specific studies as proof-of-principle examples for current statistical, bioinformatic, and empirical bench-based approaches to downstream elucidation of GWAS-identified disease risk loci.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Risk Factors