Genetic variants that modify brain gene expression may also influence risk for human diseases. We measured expression levels of 24,526 transcripts in brain samples from the cerebellum and temporal cortex of autopsied subjects with Alzheimer's disease (AD, cerebellar n = 197, temporal cortex n = 202) and with other brain pathologies (non–AD, cerebellar n = 177, temporal cortex n = 197). We conducted an expression genome-wide association study (eGWAS) using 213,528 cisSNPs within ±100 kb of the tested transcripts. We identified 2,980 cerebellar cisSNP/transcript level associations (2,596 unique cisSNPs) significant in both ADs and non–ADs (q<0.05, p = 7.70×10−5–1.67×10−82). Of these, 2,089 were also significant in the temporal cortex (p = 1.85×10−5–1.70×10−141). The top cerebellar cisSNPs had 2.4-fold enrichment for human disease-associated variants (p<10−6). We identified novel cisSNP/transcript associations for human disease-associated variants, including progressive supranuclear palsy SLCO1A2/rs11568563, Parkinson's disease (PD) MMRN1/rs6532197, Paget's disease OPTN/rs1561570; and we confirmed others, including PD MAPT/rs242557, systemic lupus erythematosus and ulcerative colitis IRF5/rs4728142, and type 1 diabetes mellitus RPS26/rs1701704. In our eGWAS, there was 2.9–3.3 fold enrichment (p<10−6) of significant cisSNPs with suggestive AD–risk association (p<10−3) in the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Consortium GWAS. These results demonstrate the significant contributions of genetic factors to human brain gene expression, which are reliably detected across different brain regions and pathologies. The significant enrichment of brain cisSNPs among disease-associated variants advocates gene expression changes as a mechanism for many central nervous system (CNS) and non–CNS diseases. Combined assessment of expression and disease GWAS may provide complementary information in discovery of human disease variants with functional implications. Our findings have implications for the design and interpretation of eGWAS in general and the use of brain expression quantitative trait loci in the study of human disease genetics.
Genetic variants that regulate gene expression levels can also influence human disease risk. Discovery of genomic loci that alter brain gene expression levels (brain expression quantitative trait loci = eQTLs) can be instrumental in the identification of genetic risk underlying both central nervous system (CNS) and non–CNS diseases. To systematically assess the role of brain eQTLs in human disease and to evaluate the influence of brain region and pathology in eQTL mapping, we performed an expression genome-wide association study (eGWAS) in 773 brain samples from the cerebellum and temporal cortex of ∼200 autopsied subjects with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and ∼200 with other brain pathologies (non–AD). We identified ∼3,000 significant associations between cisSNPs near ∼700 genes and their cerebellar transcript levels, which replicate in ADs and non–ADs. More than 2,000 of these associations were reproducible in the temporal cortex. The top cisSNPs are enriched for both CNS and non–CNS disease-associated variants. We identified novel and confirmed previous cisSNP/transcript associations for many disease loci, suggesting gene expression regulation as their mechanism of action. These findings demonstrate the reproducibility of the eQTL approach across different brain regions and pathologies, and advocate the combined use of gene expression and disease GWAS for identification and functional characterization of human disease-associated variants.