Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are a class of non-coding RNAs that have cell-type-specific expression and are relevant in cardiovascular disease. Aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs) play a crucial role in cardiovascular disease. In this study, we employed a systems genetics approach to identify SMC circRNA transcripts and their relevance in cardiovascular traits across the genome. We quantified circRNA expression across 151 quiescent and proliferative human aortic SMCs from donors of various genetic ancestries. We identified 1,589 expressed circRNAs. Between quiescent and proliferative SMCs, we identified 173 differentially expressed circRNAs. To characterize the genetic regulation of circRNA expression, we associated the genotypes of 6.3 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with circRNA abundance and found 96 circRNAs that were associated with genetic loci. Three SNPs were associated with circRNA expression in proliferative SMCs but not quiescent SMCs. We identified six SNPs that had distinct association directions with circRNA isoforms from the same gene. Lastly, to identify the relevance of circRNAs in cardiovascular disease, we overlapped genetic loci associated with circRNA expression with vascular disease-related genome-wide association studies loci. We identified 14 blood pressure, one myocardial infarction, and three coronary artery disease loci, which were associated with a circRNA transcript but not an mRNA transcript. Overall, our results provide insight into the genetic basis of vascular disease traits mediated by circRNA expression.
Keywords: GWAS; QTL; cardiovascular disease; circQTLs; circular RNA; smooth muscle cell.
© 2022 The Authors.