Although genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified hundreds of complex trait loci, the pathomechanisms of most remain elusive. Studying the genetics of risk factors predisposing to disease is an attractive approach to identify targets for functional studies. Intracranial aneurysms (IA) are rupture-prone pouches at cerebral artery branching sites. IA is a complex disease for which GWAS have identified five loci with strong association and a further 14 loci with suggestive association. To decipher potential underlying disease mechanisms, we tested whether there are IA loci that convey their effect through elevating blood pressure (BP), a strong risk factor of IA. We performed a meta-analysis of four population-based Finnish cohorts (nFIN = 11 266) not selected for IA, to assess the association of previously identified IA candidate loci (n = 19) with BP. We defined systolic BP (SBP), diastolic BP, mean arterial pressure, and pulse pressure as quantitative outcome variables. The most significant result was further tested for association in the ICBP-GWAS cohort of 200 000 individuals. We found that the suggestive IA locus at 5q23.2 in PRDM6 was significantly associated with SBP in individuals of European descent (pFIN = 3.01E-05, pICBP-GWAS = 0.0007, pALL = 8.13E-07). The risk allele of IA was associated with higher SBP. PRDM6 encodes a protein predominantly expressed in vascular smooth muscle cells. Our study connects a complex disease (IA) locus with a common risk factor for the disease (SBP). We hypothesize that common variants in PRDM6 can contribute to altered vascular wall structure, hence increasing SBP and predisposing to IA. True positive associations often fail to reach genome-wide significance in GWAS. Our findings show that analysis of traditional risk factors as intermediate phenotypes is an effective tool for deciphering hidden heritability. Further, we demonstrate that common disease loci identified in a population isolate may bear wider significance.
When multiple genes or genetic regions contribute to the inherited risk of a disease, it is referred to as a complex disease. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) aim to detect common genetic variations that associate with complex traits or diseases. Although GWAS have been successful in identifying strongly associated genetic loci, they lack the means to point out true, but less strong, associations. Studying conditions that are related to the disease of interest can help sort out less strong associations. Intracranial aneurysms (IA) are berry-like dilations in cerebral arteries. Most IAs do not give symptoms until they bleed, causing a highly fatal form of stroke. Half of the people who suffer bleeding of an IA die. IA is a complex disease. Both inherited risk and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing IA. Women, smokers, those with high alcohol intake or high blood pressure are more prone to develop IA and bleeding. GWAS found 19 genetic regions increasing the risk of IA. Here we show that one of these loci, on the long arm of chromosome 5, in addition to raising IA risk also increases systolic blood pressure. We speculate that the cause is modified vascular wall structure.