Background: The concentrations of the highly atherogenic lipoprotein(a) [Lp(a)] are mainly genetically determined by the LPA gene locus. However, up to 70% of the coding sequence is located in the complex so-called kringle IV type 2 (KIV-2) copy number variation, a region hardly accessible by common genotyping and sequencing technologies. Despite its size, little is known about genetic variants in this complex region. The R21X variant is a functional variant located in this region, but it has never been analyzed in large cohorts.
Methods: We typed R21X in 10,910 individuals from three European populations using a newly developed high-throughput allele-specific qPCR assay. R21X allelic location was determined by separating the LPA alleles using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and typing them separately. Using GWAS data, we identified a proxy SNP located outside of the KIV-2. Linkage disequilibrium was determined both statistically and by long-range haplotyping using PFGE. Worldwide frequencies were determined by reanalyzing the sequencing data of the 1000 Genomes Project with a dedicated pipeline.
Results: R21X carriers (frequency 0.016-0.021) showed significantly lower mean Lp(a) concentrations (- 11.7 mg/dL [- 15.5; - 7.82], p = 3.39e-32). The variant is located mostly on medium-sized LPA alleles. In the 1000 Genome data, R21X mostly occurs in Europeans and South Asians, is absent in Africans, and shows varying frequencies in South American populations (0 to 0.022). Of note, the best proxy SNP was another LPA null mutation (rs41272114, D' = 0.958, R2 = 0.281). D' was very high in all 1000G populations (0.986-0.996), although rs41272114 frequency varies considerably (0-0.182). Co-localization of both null mutations on the same allele was confirmed by PFGE-based long-range haplotyping.
Conclusions: We performed the largest epidemiological study on an LPA KIV-2 variant so far, showing that it is possible to assess LPA KIV-2 mutations on a large scale. Surprisingly, in all analyzed populations, R21X was located on the same haplotype as the splice mutation rs41272114, creating "double-null" LPA alleles. Despite being a nonsense variant, the R21X status does not provide additional information beyond the rs41272114 genotype. This has important implications for studies using LPA loss-of-function mutations as genetic instruments and emphasizes the complexity of LPA genetics.