Genetic and epigenetic mechanisms may interact and together affect biological processes and disease development. However, most previous studies have investigated genetic and epigenetic mechanisms independently, and studies examining their interactions throughout the human genome are lacking. To identify genetic loci that interact with the epigenome, we performed the first genome-wide DNA methylation quantitative trait locus (mQTL) analysis in human pancreatic islets. We related 574,553 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with genome-wide DNA methylation data of 468,787 CpG sites targeting 99% of RefSeq genes in islets from 89 donors. We identified 67,438 SNP-CpG pairs in cis, corresponding to 36,783 SNPs (6.4% of tested SNPs) and 11,735 CpG sites (2.5% of tested CpGs), and 2,562 significant SNP-CpG pairs in trans, corresponding to 1,465 SNPs (0.3% of tested SNPs) and 383 CpG sites (0.08% of tested CpGs), showing significant associations after correction for multiple testing. These include reported diabetes loci, e.g. ADCY5, KCNJ11, HLA-DQA1, INS, PDX1 and GRB10. CpGs of significant cis-mQTLs were overrepresented in the gene body and outside of CpG islands. Follow-up analyses further identified mQTLs associated with gene expression and insulin secretion in human islets. Causal inference test (CIT) identified SNP-CpG pairs where DNA methylation in human islets is the potential mediator of the genetic association with gene expression or insulin secretion. Functional analyses further demonstrated that identified candidate genes (GPX7, GSTT1 and SNX19) directly affect key biological processes such as proliferation and apoptosis in pancreatic β-cells. Finally, we found direct correlations between DNA methylation of 22,773 (4.9%) CpGs with mRNA expression of 4,876 genes, where 90% of the correlations were negative when CpGs were located in the region surrounding transcription start site. Our study demonstrates for the first time how genome-wide genetic and epigenetic variation interacts to influence gene expression, islet function and potential diabetes risk in humans.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Endocrinology and Diabetes