Ek WE, Rask-Andersen M, Karlsson T, Enroth S, Gyllensten U, Johansson Å
Hum. Mol. Genet. 27 (5) 799-810 [2018-03-01; online 2018-01-13]
Most genetic studies identify genetic variants associated with disease risk or with the mean value of a quantitative trait. More rarely, genetic variants associated with variance heterogeneity are considered. In this study, we have identified such variance single-nucleotide polymorphisms (vSNPs) and examined if these represent biological gene × gene or gene × environment interactions or statistical artifacts caused by multiple linked genetic variants influencing the same phenotype. We have performed a genome-wide study, to identify vSNPs associated with variance heterogeneity in DNA methylation levels. Genotype data from over 10 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and DNA methylation levels at over 430 000 CpG sites, were analyzed in 729 individuals. We identified vSNPs for 7195 CpG sites (P < 9.4 × 10-11). This is a relatively low number compared to 52 335 CpG sites for which SNPs were associated with mean DNA methylation levels. We further showed that variance heterogeneity between genotypes mainly represents additional, often rare, SNPs in linkage disequilibrium (LD) with the respective vSNP and for some vSNPs, multiple low frequency variants co-segregating with one of the vSNP alleles. Therefore, our results suggest that variance heterogeneity of DNA methylation mainly represents phenotypic effects by multiple SNPs, rather than biological interactions. Such effects may also be important for interpreting variance heterogeneity of more complex clinical phenotypes.