Allele-specific epigenetic activity in prostate cancer and normal prostate tissue implicates prostate cancer risk mechanisms

Am J Hum Genet. 2021 Nov 4;108(11):2071-2085. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2021.09.008. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of prostate cancer have identified >250 significant risk loci, but the causal variants and mechanisms for these loci remain largely unknown. Here, we sought to identify and characterize risk-harboring regulatory elements by integrating epigenomes from primary prostate tumor and normal tissues of 27 individuals across the H3K27ac, H3K4me3, and H3K4me2 histone marks and FOXA1 and HOXB13 transcription factors. We identified 7,371 peaks with significant allele specificity (allele-specific quantitative trait locus [asQTL] peaks). Showcasing their relevance to prostate cancer risk, H3K27ac T-asQTL peaks were the single annotation most enriched for prostate cancer GWAS heritability (40×), significantly higher than corresponding non-asQTL H3K27ac peaks (14×) or coding regions (14×). Surprisingly, fine-mapped GWAS risk variants were most significantly enriched for asQTL peaks observed in tumors, including asQTL peaks that were differentially imbalanced with respect to tumor-normal states. These data pinpointed putative causal regulatory elements at 20 GWAS loci, of which 11 were detected only in the tumor samples. More broadly, tumor-specific asQTLs were enriched for expression QTLs in benign tissues as well as accessible regions found in stem cells, supporting a hypothesis where some germline variants become reactivated during or after transformation and can be captured by epigenomic profiling of the tumor. Our study demonstrates the power of allele specificity in chromatin signals to uncover GWAS mechanisms, highlights the relevance of tumor-specific regulation in the context of cancer risk, and prioritizes multiple loci for experimental follow-up.

Keywords: GWAS; QTL; allele-specific; cancer; enhancers; epigenomics; heritability; regulation.

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

  • Alleles*
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prostate / metabolism*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci