For decades, research efforts have tried to uncover the underlying genetic basis of human susceptibility to a variety of diseases. Linkage studies have resulted in highly replicated findings and helped identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) for many complex traits; however identification of specific alleles accounting for linkage remains elusive. The purpose of this study was to determine whether with a sufficient number of variants a linkage signal can be fully explained.
We used comprehensive fine-mapping using a dense set of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across the entire quantitative trait locus (QTL) on human chromosome 7q36 linked to plasma triglyceride levels. Analyses included measured genotype and combined linkage association analyses.
Screening this linkage region, we found an over representation of nominally significant associations in five genes (MLL3, DPP6, PAXIP1, HTR5A, INSIG1). However, no single genetic variant was sufficient to account for the linkage. On the other hand, multiple variants capturing the variation in these five genes did account for the linkage at this locus. Permutation analyses suggested that this reduction in LOD score was unlikely to have occurred by chance (p=0.008).
With recent findings, it has become clear that most complex traits are influenced by a large number of genetic variants each contributing only a small percentage to the overall phenotype. We found that with a sufficient number of variants, the linkage can be fully explained. The results from this analysis suggest that perhaps the failure to identify causal variants for linkage peaks may be due to multiple variants under the linkage peak with small individual effect, rather than a single variant of large effect.