Joint disease-specificity at the regulatory base-pair level

Nat Commun. 2021 Jul 6;12(1):4161. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24345-9.


Given the pleiotropic nature of coding sequences and that many loci exhibit multiple disease associations, it is within non-coding sequence that disease-specificity likely exists. Here, we focus on joint disorders, finding among replicated loci, that GDF5 exhibits over twenty distinct associations, and we identify causal variants for two of its strongest associations, hip dysplasia and knee osteoarthritis. By mapping regulatory regions in joint chondrocytes, we pinpoint two variants (rs4911178; rs6060369), on the same risk haplotype, which reside in anatomical site-specific enhancers. We show that both variants have clinical relevance, impacting disease by altering morphology. By modeling each variant in humanized mice, we observe joint-specific response, correlating with GDF5 expression. Thus, we uncouple separate regulatory variants on a common risk haplotype that cause joint-specific disease. By broadening our perspective, we finally find that patterns of modularity at GDF5 are also found at over three-quarters of loci with multiple GWAS disease associations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chondrocytes
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Exons*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 5 / genetics
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 5 / metabolism
  • Hip Dislocation / genetics*
  • Hip Dislocation / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / genetics*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid


  • GDF5 protein, human
  • Gdf5 protein, mouse
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 5