Breast cancer risk-associated SNPs modulate the affinity of chromatin for FOXA1 and alter gene expression.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified thousands of SNPs that are associated with human traits and diseases. But, because the vast majority of these SNPs are located in non-coding regions of the genome, the mechanisms by which they promote disease risk have remained elusive. Employing a new methodology that combines cistromics, epigenomics and genotype imputation, we annotate the non-coding regions of the genome in breast cancer cells and systematically identify the functional nature of SNPs associated with breast cancer risk. Our results show that breast cancer risk-associated SNPs are enriched in the cistromes of FOXA1 and ESR1 and the epigenome of histone H3 lysine 4 monomethylation (H3K4me1) in a cancer- and cell type-specific manner. Furthermore, the majority of the risk-associated SNPs modulate the affinity of chromatin for FOXA1 at distal regulatory elements, thereby resulting in allele-specific gene expression, which is exemplified by the effect of the rs4784227 SNP on the TOX3 gene within the 16q12.1 risk locus.