Cascading epigenomic analysis for identifying disease genes from the regulatory landscape of GWAS variants

PLoS Genet. 2021 Nov 22;17(11):e1009918. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009918. eCollection 2021 Nov.


The majority of genetic variants detected in genome wide association studies (GWAS) exert their effects on phenotypes through gene regulation. Motivated by this observation, we propose a multi-omic integration method that models the cascading effects of genetic variants from epigenome to transcriptome and eventually to the phenome in identifying target genes influenced by risk alleles. This cascading epigenomic analysis for GWAS, which we refer to as CEWAS, comprises two types of models: one for linking cis genetic effects to epigenomic variation and another for linking cis epigenomic variation to gene expression. Applying these models in cascade to GWAS summary statistics generates gene level statistics that reflect genetically-driven epigenomic effects. We show on sixteen brain-related GWAS that CEWAS provides higher gene detection rate than related methods, and finds disease relevant genes and gene sets that point toward less explored biological processes. CEWAS thus presents a novel means for exploring the regulatory landscape of GWAS variants in uncovering disease mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Epigenome / genetics
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / pathology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics*
  • Transcriptome / genetics