Epigenomes of Human Hearts Reveal New Genetic Variants Relevant for Cardiac Disease and Phenotype

Circ Res. 2020 Aug 28;127(6):761-777. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.120.317254. Epub 2020 Jun 12.


Rationale: Identifying genetic markers for heterogeneous complex diseases such as heart failure is challenging and requires prohibitively large cohort sizes in genome-wide association studies to meet the stringent threshold of genome-wide statistical significance. On the other hand, chromatin quantitative trait loci, elucidated by direct epigenetic profiling of specific human tissues, may contribute toward prioritizing subthreshold variants for disease association.

Objective: Here, we captured noncoding genetic variants by performing epigenetic profiling for enhancer H3K27ac chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing in 70 human control and end-stage failing hearts.

Methods and results: We have mapped a comprehensive catalog of 47 321 putative human heart enhancers and promoters. Three thousand eight hundred ninety-seven differential acetylation peaks (FDR [false discovery rate], 5%) pointed to pathways altered in heart failure. To identify cardiac histone acetylation quantitative trait loci (haQTLs), we regressed out confounding factors including heart failure disease status and used the G-SCI (Genotype-independent Signal Correlation and Imbalance) test1 to call out 1680 haQTLs (FDR, 10%). RNA sequencing performed on the same heart samples proved a subset of haQTLs to have significant association also to gene expression (expression quantitative trait loci), either in cis (180) or through long-range interactions (81), identified by Hi-C (high-throughput chromatin conformation assay) and HiChIP (high-throughput protein centric chromatin) performed on a subset of hearts. Furthermore, a concordant relationship between the gain or disruption of TF (transcription factor)-binding motifs, inferred from alternative alleles at the haQTLs, implied a surprising direct association between these specific TF and local histone acetylation in human hearts. Finally, 62 unique loci were identified by colocalization of haQTLs with the subthreshold loci of heart-related genome-wide association studies datasets.

Conclusions: Disease and phenotype association for 62 unique loci are now implicated. These loci may indeed mediate their effect through modification of enhancer H3K27 acetylation enrichment and their corresponding gene expression differences (bioRxiv: https://doi.org/10.1101/536763). Graphical Abstract: A graphical abstract is available for this article.

Keywords: chromatin; epigenomics; genetic markers; genetic variation; heart failure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epigenome*
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Heart Failure / diagnosis
  • Heart Failure / genetics*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Histones / genetics*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci


  • Histones