Identifying the genes that influence levels of pro-inflammatory molecules can help to elucidate the mechanisms underlying this process. We first conducted a two-stage genome-wide association scan (GWAS) for the key inflammatory biomarkers Interleukin-6 (IL-6), the general measure of inflammation erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) in a large cohort of individuals from the founder population of Sardinia. By analysing 731,213 autosomal or X chromosome SNPs and an additional ∼1.9 million imputed variants in 4,694 individuals, we identified several SNPs associated with the selected quantitative trait loci (QTLs) and replicated all the top signals in an independent sample of 1,392 individuals from the same population. Next, to increase power to detect and resolve associations, we further genotyped the whole cohort (6,145 individuals) for 293,875 variants included on the ImmunoChip and MetaboChip custom arrays. Overall, our combined approach led to the identification of 9 genome-wide significant novel independent signals—5 of which were identified only with the custom arrays—and provided confirmatory evidence for an additional 7. Novel signals include: for IL-6, in the ABO gene (rs657152, p = 2.13×10−29); for ESR, at the HBB (rs4910472, p = 2.31×10−11) and UCN119B/SPPL3 (rs11829037, p = 8.91×10−10) loci; for MCP-1, near its receptor CCR2 (rs17141006, p = 7.53×10−13) and in CADM3 (rs3026968, p = 7.63×10−13); for hsCRP, within the CRP gene (rs3093077, p = 5.73×10−21), near DARC (rs3845624, p = 1.43×10−10), UNC119B/SPPL3 (rs11829037, p = 1.50×10−14), and ICOSLG/AIRE (rs113459440, p = 1.54×10−08) loci. Confirmatory evidence was found for IL-6 in the IL-6R gene (rs4129267); for ESR at CR1 (rs12567990) and TMEM57 (rs10903129); for MCP-1 at DARC (rs12075); and for hsCRP at CRP (rs1205), HNF1A (rs225918), and APOC-I (rs4420638). Our results improve the current knowledge of genetic variants underlying inflammation and provide novel clues for the understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating this complex process.
Inflammation is a protective response of our organism to harmful stimuli—such as germs, damaged cells, or irritants—and to initiate the healing process. It has also been implicated, with both protective and predisposing effects, in a number of different diseases; but many important details of this complex phenomenon are still unknown. Identifying the genes that influence levels of pro-inflammatory molecules can help to elucidate the factors and mechanisms underlying inflammation and their consequence on health. Genome-wide association scans (GWAS) have proved successful in revealing robust associations in both common diseases and quantitative traits. Here, we thus performed a multistage GWAS in a large cohort of individuals from Sardinia to examine the role of common genetic variants on the key inflammatory biomarkers Interleukin-6, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, monocyte chemotactic protein-1, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. Our work identified new genetic determinants associated with the quantitative levels of these inflammatory biomarkers and confirmed known ones. Overall, the data highlight an intricate regulation of this complex biological phenomenon and reveal proteins and mechanisms that can now be followed up with adequate functional studies.