Trait-Associated SNPs Are More Likely to Be eQTLs: Annotation to Enhance Discovery from GWAS
Although genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of complex traits have yielded more reproducible associations than had been discovered using any other approach, the loci characterized to date do not account for much of the heritability to such traits and, in general, have not led to improved understanding of the biology underlying complex phenotypes. Using a web site we developed to serve results of expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) studies in lymphoblastoid cell lines from HapMap samples (http://www.scandb.org), we show that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with complex traits (from http://www.genome.gov/gwastudies/) are significantly more likely to be eQTLs than minor-allele-frequency–matched SNPs chosen from high-throughput GWAS platforms. These findings are robust across a range of thresholds for establishing eQTLs (p-values from 10−4–10−8), and a broad spectrum of human complex traits. Analyses of GWAS data from the Wellcome Trust studies confirm that annotating SNPs with a score reflecting the strength of the evidence that the SNP is an eQTL can improve the ability to discover true associations and clarify the nature of the mechanism driving the associations. Our results showing that trait-associated SNPs are more likely to be eQTLs and that application of this information can enhance discovery of trait-associated SNPs for complex phenotypes raise the possibility that we can utilize this information both to increase the heritability explained by identifiable genetic factors and to gain a better understanding of the biology underlying complex traits. We show here that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with complex traits (as identified in the catalog of results from genome-wide association studies http://www.genome.gov/gwastudies/) are more likely than other SNPs chosen from high-throughput genotyping platforms to predict expression levels of genes. These observations confirm that genetic risk factors for complex traits will often affect phenotype by altering the amount or timing of protein production, rather than by changing the type of protein produced. This knowledge can be used to improve our ability to discover genetic risk factors for complex traits and to improve our understanding of their underlying biology.