Transcriptomic signatures across human tissues identify functional rare genetic variation

The GTEx Consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

INTRODUCTION: The human genome contains tens of thousands of rare (minor allele frequency <1%) variants, some of which contribute to disease risk. Using 838 samples with whole-genome and multitissue transcriptome sequencing data in the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project version 8, we assessed how rare genetic variants contribute to extreme patterns in gene expression (eOutliers), allelic expression (aseOutliers), and alternative splicing (sOutliers). We integrated these three signals across 49 tissues with genomic annotations to prioritize high-impact rare variants (RVs) that associate with human traits. RATIONALE: Outlier gene expression aids in identifying functional RVs. Transcriptome sequencing provides diverse measurements beyond gene expression, including allele-specific expression and alternative splicing, which can provide additional insight into RV functional effects. RESULTS: After identifying multitissue eOutliers, aseOutliers, and sOutliers, we found that outlier individuals of each type were significantly more likely to carry an RV near the corresponding gene. Among eOutliers, we observed strong enrichment of rare structural variants. sOutliers were particularly enriched for RVs that disrupted or created a splicing consensus sequence. aseOutliers provided the strongest enrichment signal when evaluated from just a single tissue. We developed Watershed, a probabilistic model for personal genome interpretation that improves over standard genomic annotation–based methods for scoring RVs by integrating these three transcriptomic signals from the same individual and replicates in an independent cohort. To assess whether outlier RVs identified in GTEx associate with traits, we evaluated these variants for association with diverse traits in the UK Biobank, the Million Veterans Program, and the Jackson Heart Study. We found that transcriptome-assisted prioritization identified RVs with larger trait effect sizes and were better predictors of effect size than genomic annotation alone. CONCLUSION: With >800 genomes matched with transcriptomes across 49 tissues, we were able to study RVs that underlie extreme changes in the transcriptome. To capture the diversity of these extreme changes, we developed and integrated approaches to identify expression, allele-specific expression, and alternative splicing outliers, and characterized the RV landscape underlying each outlier signal. We demonstrate that personal genome interpretation and RV discovery is enhanced by using these signals. This approach provides a new means to integrate a richer set of functional RVs into models of genetic burden, improve disease gene identification, and enable the delivery of precision genomics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1334
JournalScience
Volume369
Issue number6509
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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