Genetic Variants Contribute to Gene Expression Variability in Humans
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Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) studies have established convincing relationships between genetic variants and gene expression. Most of these studies focused on the mean of gene expression level, but not the variance of gene expression level (i.e., gene expression variability). In the present study, we systematically explore genome-wide association between genetic variants and gene expression variability in humans. We adapt the double generalized linear model (dglm) to simultaneously fit the means and the variances of gene expression among the three possible genotypes of a biallelic SNP. The genomic loci showing significant association between the variances of gene expression and the genotypes are termed expression variability QTL (evQTL). Using a data set of gene expression in lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) derived from 210 HapMap individuals, we identify cis-acting evQTL involving 218 distinct genes, among which 8 genes, ADCY1, CTNNA2, DAAM2, FERMT2, IL6, PLOD2, SNX7, and TNFRSF11B, are cross-validated using an extra expression data set of the same LCLs. We also identify ∼300 trans-acting evQTL between >13,000 common SNPs and 500 randomly selected representative genes. We employ two distinct scenarios, emphasizing single-SNP and multiple-SNP effects on expression variability, to explain the formation of evQTL. We argue that detecting evQTL may represent a novel method for effectively screening for genetic interactions, especially when the multiple-SNP influence on expression variability is implied. The implication of our results for revealing genetic mechanisms of gene expression variability is discussed.
author list (cited authors)
Hulse, A. M., & Cai, J. J.