• Ranking and characterization of established BMI and lipid associated loci as candidates for gene-environment interactions.

    12 January 2018

    Phenotypic variance heterogeneity across genotypes at a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) may reflect underlying gene-environment (G×E) or gene-gene interactions. We modeled variance heterogeneity for blood lipids and BMI in up to 44,211 participants and investigated relationships between variance effects (Pv), G×E interaction effects (with smoking and physical activity), and marginal genetic effects (Pm). Correlations between Pv and Pm were stronger for SNPs with established marginal effects (Spearman's ρ = 0.401 for triglycerides, and ρ = 0.236 for BMI) compared to all SNPs. When Pv and Pm were compared for all pruned SNPs, only BMI was statistically significant (Spearman's ρ = 0.010). Overall, SNPs with established marginal effects were overrepresented in the nominally significant part of the Pv distribution (Pbinomial <0.05). SNPs from the top 1% of the Pm distribution for BMI had more significant Pv values (PMann-Whitney = 1.46×10-5), and the odds ratio of SNPs with nominally significant (<0.05) Pm and Pv was 1.33 (95% CI: 1.12, 1.57) for BMI. Moreover, BMI SNPs with nominally significant G×E interaction P-values (Pint<0.05) were enriched with nominally significant Pv values (Pbinomial = 8.63×10-9 and 8.52×10-7 for SNP × smoking and SNP × physical activity, respectively). We conclude that some loci with strong marginal effects may be good candidates for G×E, and variance-based prioritization can be used to identify them.

  • An Expanded Genome-Wide Association Study of Type 2 Diabetes in Europeans.

    10 January 2018

    To characterize type 2 diabetes (T2D)-associated variation across the allele frequency spectrum, we conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association data from 26,676 T2D case and 132,532 control subjects of European ancestry after imputation using the 1000 Genomes multiethnic reference panel. Promising association signals were followed up in additional data sets (of 14,545 or 7,397 T2D case and 38,994 or 71,604 control subjects). We identified 13 novel T2D-associated loci (P < 5 × 10-8), including variants near the GLP2R, GIP, and HLA-DQA1 genes. Our analysis brought the total number of independent T2D associations to 128 distinct signals at 113 loci. Despite substantially increased sample size and more complete coverage of low-frequency variation, all novel associations were driven by common single nucleotide variants. Credible sets of potentially causal variants were generally larger than those based on imputation with earlier reference panels, consistent with resolution of causal signals to common risk haplotypes. Stratification of T2D-associated loci based on T2D-related quantitative trait associations revealed tissue-specific enrichment of regulatory annotations in pancreatic islet enhancers for loci influencing insulin secretion and in adipocytes, monocytes, and hepatocytes for insulin action-associated loci. These findings highlight the predominant role played by common variants of modest effect and the diversity of biological mechanisms influencing T2D pathophysiology.

  • Genetic loci associated with heart rate variability and their effects on cardiac disease risk.

    10 January 2018

    Reduced cardiac vagal control reflected in low heart rate variability (HRV) is associated with greater risks for cardiac morbidity and mortality. In two-stage meta-analyses of genome-wide association studies for three HRV traits in up to 53,174 individuals of European ancestry, we detect 17 genome-wide significant SNPs in eight loci. HRV SNPs tag non-synonymous SNPs (in NDUFA11 and KIAA1755), expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) (influencing GNG11, RGS6 and NEO1), or are located in genes preferentially expressed in the sinoatrial node (GNG11, RGS6 and HCN4). Genetic risk scores account for 0.9 to 2.6% of the HRV variance. Significant genetic correlation is found for HRV with heart rate (-0.74<rg<-0.55) and blood pressure (-0.35<rg<-0.20). These findings provide clinically relevant biological insight into heritable variation in vagal heart rhythm regulation, with a key role for genetic variants (GNG11, RGS6) that influence G-protein heterotrimer action in GIRK-channel induced pacemaker membrane hyperpolarization.

  • Viral genetic variation accounts for a third of variability in HIV-1 set-point viral load in Europe.

    15 January 2018

    HIV-1 set-point viral load-the approximately stable value of viraemia in the first years of chronic infection-is a strong predictor of clinical outcome and is highly variable across infected individuals. To better understand HIV-1 pathogenesis and the evolution of the viral population, we must quantify the heritability of set-point viral load, which is the fraction of variation in this phenotype attributable to viral genetic variation. However, current estimates of heritability vary widely, from 6% to 59%. Here we used a dataset of 2,028 seroconverters infected between 1985 and 2013 from 5 European countries (Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) and estimated the heritability of set-point viral load at 31% (CI 15%-43%). Specifically, heritability was measured using models of character evolution describing how viral load evolves on the phylogeny of whole-genome viral sequences. In contrast to previous studies, (i) we measured viral loads using standardized assays on a sample collected in a strict time window of 6 to 24 months after infection, from which the viral genome was also sequenced; (ii) we compared 2 models of character evolution, the classical "Brownian motion" model and another model ("Ornstein-Uhlenbeck") that includes stabilising selection on viral load; (iii) we controlled for covariates, including age and sex, which may inflate estimates of heritability; and (iv) we developed a goodness of fit test based on the correlation of viral loads in cherries of the phylogenetic tree, showing that both models of character evolution fit the data well. An overall heritability of 31% (CI 15%-43%) is consistent with other studies based on regression of viral load in donor-recipient pairs. Thus, about a third of variation in HIV-1 virulence is attributable to viral genetic variation.

  • Pneumococcal Capsule Synthesis Locus cps as Evolutionary Hotspot with Potential to Generate Novel Serotypes by Recombination.

    9 January 2018

    Diversity of the polysaccharide capsule in Streptococcus pneumoniae-main surface antigen and the target of the currently used pneumococcal vaccines-constitutes a major obstacle in eliminating pneumococcal disease. Such diversity is genetically encoded by almost 100 variants of the capsule biosynthesis locus, cps. However, the evolutionary dynamics of the capsule remains not fully understood. Here, using genetic data from 4,519 bacterial isolates, we found cps to be an evolutionary hotspot with elevated substitution and recombination rates. These rates were a consequence of relaxed purifying selection and positive, diversifying selection acting at this locus, supporting the hypothesis that the capsule has an increased potential to generate novel diversity compared with the rest of the genome. Diversifying selection was particularly evident in the region of wzd/wze genes, which are known to regulate capsule expression and hence the bacterium's ability to cause disease. Using a novel, capsule-centered approach, we analyzed the evolutionary history of 12 major serogroups. Such analysis revealed their complex diversification scenarios, which were principally driven by recombination with other serogroups and other streptococci. Patterns of recombinational exchanges between serogroups could not be explained by serotype frequency alone, thus pointing to nonrandom associations between co-colonizing serotypes. Finally, we discovered a previously unobserved mosaic serotype 39X, which was confirmed to carry a viable and structurally novel capsule. Adding to previous discoveries of other mosaic capsules in densely sampled collections, these results emphasize the strong adaptive potential of the bacterium by its ability to generate novel antigenic diversity by recombination.

  • Genomic epidemiology reveals multiple introductions of Zika virus into the United States.

    9 January 2018

    Zika virus (ZIKV) is causing an unprecedented epidemic linked to severe congenital abnormalities. In July 2016, mosquito-borne ZIKV transmission was reported in the continental United States; since then, hundreds of locally acquired infections have been reported in Florida. To gain insights into the timing, source, and likely route(s) of ZIKV introduction, we tracked the virus from its first detection in Florida by sequencing ZIKV genomes from infected patients and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. We show that at least 4 introductions, but potentially as many as 40, contributed to the outbreak in Florida and that local transmission is likely to have started in the spring of 2016-several months before its initial detection. By analysing surveillance and genetic data, we show that ZIKV moved among transmission zones in Miami. Our analyses show that most introductions were linked to the Caribbean, a finding corroborated by the high incidence rates and traffic volumes from the region into the Miami area. Our study provides an understanding of how ZIKV initiates transmission in new regions.