Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified ∼100 loci associated with blood lipid levels, but much of the trait heritability remains unexplained, and at most loci the identities of the trait-influencing variants remain unknown. We conducted a trans-ethnic fine-mapping study at 18, 22, and 18 GWAS loci on the Metabochip for their association with triglycerides (TG), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), respectively, in individuals of African American (n = 6,832), East Asian (n = 9,449), and European (n = 10,829) ancestry. We aimed to identify the variants with strongest association at each locus, identify additional and population-specific signals, refine association signals, and assess the relative significance of previously described functional variants. Among the 58 loci, 33 exhibited evidence of association at P<1×10−4 in at least one ancestry group. Sequential conditional analyses revealed that ten, nine, and four loci in African Americans, Europeans, and East Asians, respectively, exhibited two or more signals. At these loci, accounting for all signals led to a 1.3- to 1.8-fold increase in the explained phenotypic variance compared to the strongest signals. Distinct signals across ancestry groups were identified at PCSK9 and APOA5. Trans-ethnic analyses narrowed the signals to smaller sets of variants at GCKR, PPP1R3B, ABO, LCAT, and ABCA1. Of 27 variants reported previously to have functional effects, 74% exhibited the strongest association at the respective signal. In conclusion, trans-ethnic high-density genotyping and analysis confirm the presence of allelic heterogeneity, allow the identification of population-specific variants, and limit the number of candidate SNPs for functional studies.
Lipid traits are heritable, but many of the DNA variants that influence lipid levels remain unknown. In a genomic region, more than one variant may affect gene expression or function, and the frequencies of these variants can differ across populations. Genotyping densely spaced variants in individuals with different ancestries may increase the chance of identifying variants that affect gene expression or function. We analyzed high-density genotyped variants for association with TG, HDL-C, and LDL-C in African Americans, East Asians, and Europeans. At several genomic regions, we provide evidence that two or more variants can influence lipid traits; across loci, these additional signals increase the proportion of trait variation that can be explained by genes. At some association signals shared across populations, combining data from individuals of different ancestries narrowed the set of likely functional variants. At PCSK9 and APOA5, the data suggest that different variants influence trait levels in different populations. Variants previously reported to alter gene expression or function frequently exhibited the strongest association at those signals. The multiple signals and population-specific characteristics of the loci described here may be shared by genetic loci for other complex traits.