Obesity, a risk factor for multiple diseases (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, cancers) originates through complex interactions between genes and prevailing environment (food habit and lifestyle) that varies across populations. Indians exhibit a unique obesity phenotype with high abdominal adiposity for a given body weight compared to matched white populations suggesting presence of population-specific genetic and environmental factors influencing obesity. However, Indian population-specific genetic contributors for obesity have not been explored yet. Therefore, to identify potential genetic contributors, we performed a two-staged genome-wide association study (GWAS) for body mass index (BMI), a common measure to evaluate obesity in 5973 Indian adults and the lead findings were further replicated in 1286 Indian adolescents. Our study revealed novel association of variants-rs6913677 in BAI3 gene (p = 1.08 × 10-8) and rs2078267 in SLC22A11 gene (p = 4.62 × 10-8) at GWAS significance, and of rs8100011 in ZNF45 gene (p = 1.04 × 10-7) with near GWAS significance. As genetic loci may dictate the phenotype through modulation of epigenetic processes, we overlapped genetic data of identified signals with their DNA methylation patterns in 236 Indian individuals and performed methylation quantitative trait loci (meth-QTL) analysis. Further, functional roles of discovered variants and underlying genes were speculated using publicly available gene regulatory databases (ENCODE, JASPAR, GeneHancer, GTEx). The identified variants in BAI3 and SLC22A11 genes were found to dictate methylation patterns at unique CpGs harboring critical cis-regulatory elements. Further, BAI3, SLC22A11 and ZNF45 variants were located in repressive chromatin, active enhancer, and active chromatin regions, respectively, in human subcutaneous adipose tissue in ENCODE database. Additionally, these genomic regions represented potential binding sites for key transcription factors implicated in obesity and/or metabolic disorders. Interestingly, GTEx portal identify rs8100011 as a robust cis-expression quantitative trait locus (cis-eQTL) in subcutaneous adipose tissue (p = 1.6 × 10-7), and ZNF45 gene expression in skeletal muscle of Indian subjects showed an inverse correlation with BMI indicating its possible role in obesity. In conclusion, our study discovered 3 novel population-specific functional genetic variants (rs6913677, rs2078267, rs8100011) in 2 novel (SLC22A11 and ZNF45) and 1 earlier reported gene (BAI3) for BMI in Indians. Our study decodes key genomic loci underlying obesity phenotype in Indians that may serve as prospective drug targets in future.
Keywords: BAI3; Body mass index; DNA methylation; GWAS; Gene regulation; SLC22A11; ZNF45.