A Multi-omic Integrative Scheme Characterizes Tissues of Action at Loci Associated with Type 2 Diabetes.
Torres JM., Abdalla M., Payne A., Fernandez-Tajes J., Thurner M., Nylander V., Gloyn AL., Mahajan A., McCarthy MI.
Resolving the molecular processes that mediate genetic risk remains a challenge because most disease-associated variants are non-coding and functional characterization of these signals requires knowledge of the specific tissues and cell-types in which they operate. To address this challenge, we developed a framework for integrating tissue-specific gene expression and epigenomic maps to obtain "tissue-of-action" (TOA) scores for each association signal by systematically partitioning posterior probabilities from Bayesian fine-mapping. We applied this scheme to credible set variants for 380 association signals from a recent GWAS meta-analysis of type 2 diabetes (T2D) in Europeans. The resulting tissue profiles underscored a predominant role for pancreatic islets and, to a lesser extent, adipose and liver, particularly among signals with greater fine-mapping resolution. We incorporated resulting TOA scores into a rule-based classifier and validated the tissue assignments through comparison with data from cis-eQTL enrichment, functional fine-mapping, RNA co-expression, and patterns of physiological association. In addition to implicating signals with a single TOA, we found evidence for signals with shared effects in multiple tissues as well as distinct tissue profiles between independent signals within heterogeneous loci. Lastly, we demonstrated that TOA scores can be directly coupled with eQTL colocalization to further resolve effector transcripts at T2D signals. This framework guides mechanistic inference by directing functional validation studies to the most relevant tissues and can gain power as fine-mapping resolution and cell-specific annotations become richer. This method is generalizable to all complex traits with relevant annotation data and is made available as an R package.