Rationale: Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified loci influencing lung function, but fewer genes influencing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are known.
Objectives: Perform meta-analyses of GWAS for airflow obstruction, a key pathophysiologic characteristic of COPD assessed by spirometry, in population-based cohorts examining all participants, ever smokers, never smokers, asthma-free participants, and more severe cases.
Methods: Fifteen cohorts were studied for discovery (3,368 affected; 29,507 unaffected), and a population-based family study and a meta-analysis of case-control studies were used for replication and regional follow-up (3,837 cases; 4,479 control subjects). Airflow obstruction was defined as FEV1 and its ratio to FVC (FEV1/FVC) both less than their respective lower limits of normal as determined by published reference equations.
Measurements and Main Results: The discovery meta-analyses identified one region on chromosome 15q25.1 meeting genome-wide significance in ever smokers that includes AGPHD1, IREB2, and CHRNA5/CHRNA3 genes. The region was also modestly associated among never smokers. Gene expression studies confirmed the presence of CHRNA5/3 in lung, airway smooth muscle, and bronchial epithelial cells. A single-nucleotide polymorphism in HTR4, a gene previously related to FEV1/FVC, achieved genome-wide statistical significance in combined meta-analysis. Top single-nucleotide polymorphisms in ADAM19, RARB, PPAP2B, and ADAMTS19 were nominally replicated in the COPD meta-analysis.
Conclusions: These results suggest an important role for the CHRNA5/3 region as a genetic risk factor for airflow obstruction that may be independent of smoking and implicate the HTR4 gene in the etiology of airflow obstruction.