Gene-based analysis of regulatory variants identifies 4 putative novel asthma risk genes related to nucleotide synthesis and signaling

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Hundreds of genetic variants are thought to contribute to variation in asthma risk by modulating gene expression. Methods that increase the power of genome-wide association studies (GWASs) to identify risk-associated variants are needed.


We sought to develop a method that aggregates the evidence for association with disease risk across expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) of a gene and use this approach to identify asthma risk genes.


We developed a gene-based test and software package called EUGENE that (1) is applicable to GWAS summary statistics; (2) considers bothcis- andtrans-eQTLs; (3) incorporates eQTLs identified in different tissues; and (4) uses simulations to account for multiple testing. We applied this approach to 2 published asthma GWASs (combined n = 46,044) and used mouse studies to provide initial functional insights into 2 genes with novel genetic associations.


We tested the association between asthma and 17,190 genes that were found to havecis- and/ortrans-eQTLs across 16 published eQTL studies. At an empirical FDR of 5%, 48 genes were associated with asthma risk. Of these, for 37, the association was driven by eQTLs located in established risk loci for allergic disease, including 6 genes not previously implicated in disease cause (eg,LIMS1,TINF2, andSAFB). The remaining 11 significant genes represent potential novel genetic associations with asthma. The association with 4 of these replicated in an independent GWAS:B4GALT3,USMG5,P2RY13, andP2RY14, which are genes involved in nucleotide synthesis or nucleotide-dependent cell activation. In mouse studies, P2ry13 and P2ry14—purinergic receptors activated by adenosine 5-diphosphate and UDP-sugars, respectively—were upregulated after allergen challenge, notably in airway epithelial cells, eosinophils, and neutrophils. Intranasal exposure with receptor agonists induced the release of IL-33 and subsequent eosinophil infiltration into the lungs.


We identified novel associations between asthma and eQTLs for 4 genes related to nucleotide synthesis/signaling and demonstrated the power of gene-based analyses of GWASs.

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