Total white blood cell (WBC) and neutrophil counts are lower among individuals of African descent due to the common African-derived “null” variant of the Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC) gene. Additional common genetic polymorphisms were recently associated with total WBC and WBC sub-type levels in European and Japanese populations. No additional loci that account for WBC variability have been identified in African Americans. In order to address this, we performed a large genome-wide association study (GWAS) of total WBC and cell subtype counts in 16,388 African-American participants from 7 population-based cohorts available in the Continental Origins and Genetic Epidemiology Network. In addition to the DARC locus on chromosome 1q23, we identified two other regions (chromosomes 4q13 and 16q22) associated with WBC in African Americans (P<2.5×10−8). The lead SNP (rs9131) on chromosome 4q13 is located in the CXCL2 gene, which encodes a chemotactic cytokine for polymorphonuclear leukocytes. Independent evidence of the novel CXCL2 association with WBC was present in 3,551 Hispanic Americans, 14,767 Japanese, and 19,509 European Americans. The index SNP (rs12149261) on chromosome 16q22 associated with WBC count is located in a large inter-chromosomal segmental duplication encompassing part of the hydrocephalus inducing homolog (HYDIN) gene. We demonstrate that the chromosome 16q22 association finding is most likely due to a genotyping artifact as a consequence of sequence similarity between duplicated regions on chromosomes 16q22 and 1q21. Among the WBC loci recently identified in European or Japanese populations, replication was observed in our African-American meta-analysis for rs445 of CDK6 on chromosome 7q21 and rs4065321 of PSMD3-CSF3 region on chromosome 17q21. In summary, the CXCL2, CDK6, and PSMD3-CSF3 regions are associated with WBC count in African American and other populations. We also demonstrate that large inter-chromosomal duplications can result in false positive associations in GWAS.
Although recent genome-wide association studies have identified common genetic variants associated with total white blood cell (WBC) and WBC sub-type counts in European and Japanese ancestry populations, whether these or other loci account for differences in WBC count among African Americans is unknown. By examining >16,000 African Americans, we show that, in addition to the previously identified Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC) locus on chromosome 1, another variant, rs9131, and other nearby variants on human chromosome 4 are associated with total WBC count in African Americans. The variants span the CXCL2 gene, which encodes an inflammatory mediator involved in WBC production and migration. We show that the association is not restricted to African Americans but is also present in independent samples of European Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Japanese. This finding is potentially important because WBC mediate or have altered counts in a variety of acute and chronic disorders.