Genetic studies have identified numerous genes reproducibly associated with asthma, yet these studies have focused almost entirely on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and virtually ignored another highly prevalent form of genetic variation: Copy Number Variants (CNVs).
To survey the prevalence of CNVs in genes previously associated with asthma, and to assess whether CNVs represent the functional asthma-susceptibility variants at these loci.
We genotyped 383 asthmatic trios participating in the Childhood Asthma Management Program (CAMP) using a competitive genomic hybridization (CGH) array designed to interrogate 20,092 CNVs. To ensure comprehensive assessment of all potential asthma candidate genes, we purposely used liberal asthma gene inclusion criteria, resulting in consideration of 270 candidate genes previously implicated in asthma. We performed statistical testing using FBAT-CNV.
Copy number variation in asthma candidate genes was prevalent, with 21% of tested genes residing near or within one of 69 CNVs. In 6 instances, the complete candidate gene sequence resides within the CNV boundaries. On average, asthmatic probands carried 6 asthma-candidate CNVs (range 1–29). However, the vast majority of identified CNVs were of rare frequency (< 5%), and were not statistically associated with asthma. Modest evidence for association with asthma was observed for 2 CNVs near NOS1 and SERPINA3. Linkage disequilibrium analysis suggests that CNV effects are unlikely to explain previously detected SNP associations with asthma.
Although a substantial proportion of asthma-susceptibility genes harbor polymorphic CNVs, the majority of these variants do not confer increased asthma risk. The lack of linkage disequilibrium (LD) between CNVs and asthma-associated SNPs suggests that these CNVs are unlikely to represent the functional variant responsible for most known asthma associations.