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Unraveling the regulatory mechanisms underlying tissue-dependent genetic variation of gene expression.

  • Author(s): Fu, Jingyuan
  • Wolfs, Marcel GM
  • Deelen, Patrick
  • Westra, Harm-Jan
  • Fehrmann, Rudolf SN
  • Te Meerman, Gerard J
  • Buurman, Wim A
  • Rensen, Sander SM
  • Groen, Harry JM
  • Weersma, Rinse K
  • van den Berg, Leonard H
  • Veldink, Jan
  • Ophoff, Roel A
  • Snieder, Harold
  • van Heel, David
  • Jansen, Ritsert C
  • Hofker, Marten H
  • Wijmenga, Cisca
  • Franke, Lude
  • et al.

It is known that genetic variants can affect gene expression, but it is not yet completely clear through what mechanisms genetic variation mediate this expression. We therefore compared the cis-effect of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on gene expression between blood samples from 1,240 human subjects and four primary non-blood tissues (liver, subcutaneous, and visceral adipose tissue and skeletal muscle) from 85 subjects. We characterized four different mechanisms for 2,072 probes that show tissue-dependent genetic regulation between blood and non-blood tissues: on average 33.2% only showed cis-regulation in non-blood tissues; 14.5% of the eQTL probes were regulated by different, independent SNPs depending on the tissue of investigation. 47.9% showed a different effect size although they were regulated by the same SNPs. Surprisingly, we observed that 4.4% were regulated by the same SNP but with opposite allelic direction. We show here that SNPs that are located in transcriptional regulatory elements are enriched for tissue-dependent regulation, including SNPs at 3' and 5' untranslated regions (P = 1.84×10(-5) and 4.7×10(-4), respectively) and SNPs that are synonymous-coding (P = 9.9×10(-4)). SNPs that are associated with complex traits more often exert a tissue-dependent effect on gene expression (P = 2.6×10(-10)). Our study yields new insights into the genetic basis of tissue-dependent expression and suggests that complex trait associated genetic variants have even more complex regulatory effects than previously anticipated.

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