Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Genomics of complex traits and evolutionary selection pressure on DNA regions linked to cognitive ability

Two recent papers relevant to the genetics of complex traits. The second paper is specifically about the genetic architecture of cognition. Thanks to blog readers for pointing them out to me.

See also The tipping point.
Genetics of complex traits: prediction of phenotype, identification of causal polymorphisms and genetic architecture

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0569
Proceedings of the Royal Society 27 July 2016 Volume 283, issue 1835

Complex or quantitative traits are important in medicine, agriculture and evolution, yet, until recently, few of the polymorphisms that cause variation in these traits were known. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS), based on the ability to assay thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), have revolutionized our understanding of the genetics of complex traits. We advocate the analysis of GWAS data by a statistical method that fits all SNP effects simultaneously, assuming that these effects are drawn from a prior distribution. We illustrate how this method can be used to predict future phenotypes, to map and identify the causal mutations, and to study the genetic architecture of complex traits. The genetic architecture of complex traits is even more complex than previously thought: in almost every trait studied there are thousands of polymorphisms that explain genetic variation. Methods of predicting future phenotypes, collectively known as genomic selection or genomic prediction, have been widely adopted in livestock and crop breeding, leading to increased rates of genetic improvement.

Molecular genetic aetiology of general cognitive function is enriched in evolutionarily conserved regions


Differences in general cognitive function have been shown to be partly heritable and to show genetic correlations with a several psychiatric and physical disease states. However, to date few single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have demonstrated genome-wide significance, hampering efforts aimed at determining which genetic variants are most important for cognitive function and which regions drive the genetic associations between cognitive function and disease states. Here, we combine multiple large genome-wide association study (GWAS) data sets, from the CHARGE cognitive consortium and UK Biobank, to partition the genome into 52 functional annotations and an additional 10 annotations describing tissue-specific histone marks. Using stratified linkage disequilibrium score regression we show that, in two measures of cognitive function, SNPs associated with cognitive function cluster in regions of the genome that are under evolutionary negative selective pressure. These conserved regions contained ~2.6% of the SNPs from each GWAS but accounted for ~ 40% of the SNP-based heritability. The results suggest that the search for causal variants associated with cognitive function, and those variants that exert a pleiotropic effect between cognitive function and health, will be facilitated by examining these enriched regions.

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