Contribution of Gene Regulatory Networks to Heritability of Coronary Artery Disease

Lingyao Zeng, Husain A. Talukdar, Simon Koplev, Chiara Giannarelli, Torbjörn Ivert, Li Ming Gan, Arno Ruusalepp, Eric E. Schadt, Jason C. Kovacic, Aldons J. Lusis, Tom Michoel, Heribert Schunkert, Johan L.M. Björkegren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Genetic variants currently known to affect coronary artery disease (CAD) risk explain less than one-quarter of disease heritability. The heritability contribution of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) in CAD, which are modulated by both genetic and environmental factors, is unknown. Objectives: This study sought to determine the heritability contributions of single nucleotide polymorphisms affecting gene expression (eSNPs) in GRNs causally linked to CAD. Methods: Seven vascular and metabolic tissues collected in 2 independent genetics-of-gene-expression studies of patients with CAD were used to identify eSNPs and to infer coexpression networks. To construct GRNs with causal relations to CAD, the prior information of eSNPs in the coexpression networks was used in a Bayesian algorithm. Narrow-sense CAD heritability conferred by the GRNs was calculated from individual-level genotype data from 9 European genome-wide association studies (GWAS) (13,612 cases, 13,758 control cases). Results: The authors identified and replicated 28 independent GRNs active in CAD. The genetic variation in these networks contributed to 10.0% of CAD heritability beyond the 22% attributable to risk loci identified by GWAS. GRNs in the atherosclerotic arterial wall (n = 7) and subcutaneous or visceral abdominal fat (n = 9) were most strongly implicated, jointly explaining 8.2% of CAD heritability. In all, these 28 GRNs (each contributing to >0.2% of CAD heritability) comprised 24 to 841 genes, whereof 1 to 28 genes had strong regulatory effects (key disease drivers) and harbored many relevant functions previously associated with CAD. The gene activity in these 28 GRNs also displayed strong associations with genetic and phenotypic cardiometabolic disease variations both in humans and mice, indicative of their pivotal roles as mediators of gene–environmental interactions in CAD. Conclusions: GRNs capture a major portion of genetic variance and contribute to heritability beyond that of genetic loci currently known to affect CAD risk. These networks provide a framework to identify novel risk genes/pathways and study molecular interactions within and across disease-relevant tissues leading to CAD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2946-2957
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American College of Cardiology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


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