Fine-mapping studies distinguish genetic risks for childhood- and adult-onset asthma in the HLA region

Genome Med. 2022 May 24;14(1):55. doi: 10.1186/s13073-022-01058-2.


Background: Genome-wide association studies of asthma have revealed robust associations with variation across the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) complex with independent associations in the HLA class I and class II regions for both childhood-onset asthma (COA) and adult-onset asthma (AOA). However, the specific variants and genes contributing to risk are unknown.

Methods: We used Bayesian approaches to perform genetic fine-mapping for COA and AOA (n=9432 and 21,556, respectively; n=318,167 shared controls) in White British individuals from the UK Biobank and to perform expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) fine-mapping in immune (lymphoblastoid cell lines, n=398; peripheral blood mononuclear cells, n=132) and airway (nasal epithelial cells, n=188) cells from ethnically diverse individuals. We also examined putatively causal protein coding variation from protein crystal structures and conducted replication studies in independent multi-ethnic cohorts from the UK Biobank (COA n=1686; AOA n=3666; controls n=56,063).

Results: Genetic fine-mapping revealed both shared and distinct causal variation between COA and AOA in the class I region but only distinct causal variation in the class II region. Both gene expression levels and amino acid variation contributed to risk. Our results from eQTL fine-mapping and amino acid visualization suggested that the HLA-DQA1*03:01 allele and variation associated with expression of the nonclassical HLA-DQA2 and HLA-DQB2 genes accounted entirely for the most significant association with AOA in GWAS. Our studies also suggested a potentially prominent role for HLA-C protein coding variation in the class I region in COA. We replicated putatively causal variant associations in a multi-ethnic cohort.

Conclusions: We highlight roles for both gene expression and protein coding variation in asthma risk and identified putatively causal variation and genes in the HLA region. A convergence of genomic, transcriptional, and protein coding evidence implicates the HLA-DQA2 and HLA-DQB2 genes and HLA-DQA1*03:01 allele in AOA.

Keywords: Asthma; Fine-mapping; HLA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Asthma* / genetics
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Child
  • Coenzyme A / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Amino Acids
  • Coenzyme A