In silico candidate variant and gene identification using inbred mouse strains

PeerJ. 2021 Mar 11;9:e11017. doi: 10.7717/peerj.11017. eCollection 2021.


Mice are the most widely used animal model to study genotype to phenotype relationships. Inbred mice are genetically identical, which eliminates genetic heterogeneity and makes them particularly useful for genetic studies. Many different strains have been bred over decades and a vast amount of phenotypic data has been generated. In addition, recently whole genome sequencing-based genome-wide genotype data for many widely used inbred strains has been released. Here, we present an approach for in silico fine-mapping that uses genotypic data of 37 inbred mouse strains together with phenotypic data provided by the user to propose candidate variants and genes for the phenotype under study. Public genome-wide genotype data covering more than 74 million variant sites is queried efficiently in real-time to provide those variants that are compatible with the observed phenotype differences between strains. Variants can be filtered by molecular consequences and by corresponding molecular impact. Candidate gene lists can be generated from variant lists on the fly. Fine-mapping together with annotation or filtering of results is provided in a Bioconductor package called MouseFM. In order to characterize candidate variant lists under various settings, MouseFM was applied to two expression data sets across 20 inbred mouse strains, one from neutrophils and one from CD4+ T cells. Fine-mapping was assessed for about 10,000 genes, respectively, and identified candidate variants and haplotypes for many expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) reported previously based on these data. For albinism, MouseFM reports only one variant allele of moderate or high molecular impact that only albino mice share: a missense variant in the Tyr gene, reported previously to be causal for this phenotype. Performing in silico fine-mapping for interfrontal bone formation in mice using four strains with and five strains without interfrontal bone results in 12 genes. Of these, three are related to skull shaping abnormality. Finally performing fine-mapping for dystrophic cardiac calcification by comparing 9 strains showing the phenotype with eight strains lacking it, we identify only one moderate impact variant in the known causal gene Abcc6. In summary, this illustrates the benefit of using MouseFM for candidate variant and gene identification.

Keywords: In silico; Inbred mouse strain; Bioconductor; Candidate genes; Dystrophic cardiac calcification; Fine-mapping; Genotype to phenotype; MouseFM; Variant prioritization; eQTLs.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under EXC 22167-390884018, KFO 303 grant number BU 2487/3 and by University of Lübeck, who provided resources at its OMICS compute cluster. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.