Purpose: Large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have reported important single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with significant associations with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). However, their role in disease development remains elusive. This study aimed to assess SNP-metabolite associations (i.e., metabolite quantitative trait loci [met-QTL]) and to provide insights into the biological mechanisms of AMD risk SNPs.
Design: Cross-sectional multicenter study (Boston, Massachusetts, and Coimbra, Portugal).
Participants: Patients with AMD (n = 388) and control participants (n = 98) without any vitreoretinal disease (> 50 years).
Methods: Age-related macular degeneration grading was performed using color fundus photographs according to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study classification scheme. Fasting blood samples were collected and evaluated with mass spectrometry for metabolomic profiling and Illumina OmniExpress for SNPs profiling. Analyses of met-QTL of endogenous metabolites were conducted using linear regression models adjusted for age, gender, smoking, 10 metabolite principal components (PCs), and 10 SNP PCs. Additionally, we analyzed the cumulative effect of AMD risk SNPs on plasma metabolites by generating genetic risk scores and assessing their associations with metabolites using linear regression models, accounting for the same covariates. Modeling was performed first for each cohort, and then combined by meta-analysis. Multiple comparisons were accounted for using the false discovery rate (FDR).
Main outcome measures: Plasma metabolite levels associated with AMD risk SNPs.
Results: After quality control, data for 544 plasma metabolites were included. Meta-analysis of data from all individuals (AMD patients and control participants) identified 28 significant met-QTL (β = 0.016-0.083; FDR q-value < 1.14 × 10-2), which corresponded to 5 metabolites and 2 genes: ASPM and LIPC. Polymorphisms in the LIPC gene were associated with phosphatidylethanolamine metabolites, which are glycerophospholipids, and polymorphisms in the ASPM gene with branched-chain amino acids. Similar results were observed when considering only patients with AMD. Genetic risk score-metabolite associations further supported a global impact of AMD risk SNPs on the plasma metabolome.
Conclusions: This study demonstrated that genomic-metabolomic associations can provide insights into the biological relevance of AMD risk SNPs. In particular, our results support that the LIPC gene and the glycerophospholipid metabolic pathway may play an important role in AMD, thus offering new potential therapeutic targets for this disease.
Keywords: AMD; Genetics; Metabolomic-genomic associations; Metabolomics.