Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified >500 common variants associated with quantitative metabolic traits, but in aggregate such variants explain at most 20–30% of the heritable component of population variation in these traits. To further investigate the impact of genotypic variation on metabolic traits, we conducted re-sequencing studies in >6,000 members of a Finnish population cohort (The Northern Finland Birth Cohort of 1966 [NFBC]) and a type 2 diabetes case-control sample (The Finland-United States Investigation of NIDDM Genetics [FUSION] study). By sequencing the coding sequence and 5′ and 3′ untranslated regions of 78 genes at 17 GWAS loci associated with one or more of six metabolic traits (serum levels of fasting HDL-C, LDL-C, total cholesterol, triglycerides, plasma glucose, and insulin), and conducting both single-variant and gene-level association tests, we obtained a more complete understanding of phenotype-genotype associations at eight of these loci. At all eight of these loci, the identification of new associations provides significant evidence for multiple genetic signals to one or more phenotypes, and at two loci, in the genes ABCA1 and CETP, we found significant gene-level evidence of association to non-synonymous variants with MAF<1%. Additionally, two potentially deleterious variants that demonstrated significant associations (rs138726309, a missense variant in G6PC2, and rs28933094, a missense variant in LIPC) were considerably more common in these Finnish samples than in European reference populations, supporting our prior hypothesis that deleterious variants could attain high frequencies in this isolated population, likely due to the effects of population bottlenecks. Our results highlight the value of large, well-phenotyped samples for rare-variant association analysis, and the challenge of evaluating the phenotypic impact of such variants.
Abnormal serum levels of various metabolites, including measures relevant to cholesterol, other fats, and sugars, are known to be risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Identification of the genes that play a role in generating such abnormalities could advance the development of new treatment and prevention strategies for these disorders. Investigations of common genetic variants carried out in large sets of research subjects have successfully pinpointed such genes within many regions of the human genome. However, these studies often have not led to the identification of the specific genetic variations affecting metabolic traits. To attempt to detect such causal variations, we sequenced genes in 17 genomic regions implicated in metabolic traits in >6,000 people from Finland. By conducting statistical analyses relating specific variations (individually and grouped by gene) to the measures for these metabolic traits observed in the study subjects, we added to our understanding of how genotypes affect these traits. Our findings support a long-held hypothesis that the unique history of the Finnish population provides important advantages for analyzing the relationship between genetic variations and biomedically important traits.