Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) is highly prevalent and has considerable public health impact, but its underlying genetic factors remain elusive. To identify gene networks involved in MetS, we conducted whole-genome expression and genotype profiling on abdominal (ABD) and gluteal (GLU) adipose tissue, and whole blood (WB), from 29 MetS cases and 44 controls. Co-expression network analysis for each tissue independently identified nine, six, and zero MetS–associated modules of coexpressed genes in ABD, GLU, and WB, respectively. Of 8,992 probesets expressed in ABD or GLU, 685 (7.6%) were expressed in ABD and 51 (0.6%) in GLU only. Differential eigengene network analysis of 8,256 shared probesets detected 22 shared modules with high preservation across adipose depots (DABD-GLU = 0.89), seven of which were associated with MetS (FDR P<0.01). The strongest associated module, significantly enriched for immune response–related processes, contained 94/620 (15%) genes with inter-depot differences. In an independent cohort of 145/141 twins with ABD and WB longitudinal expression data, median variability in ABD due to familiality was greater for MetS–associated versus un-associated modules (ABD: 0.48 versus 0.18, P = 0.08; GLU: 0.54 versus 0.20, P = 7.8×10−4). Cis-eQTL analysis of probesets associated with MetS (FDR P<0.01) and/or inter-depot differences (FDR P<0.01) provided evidence for 32 eQTLs. Corresponding eSNPs were tested for association with MetS–related phenotypes in two GWAS of >100,000 individuals; rs10282458, affecting expression of RARRES2 (encoding chemerin), was associated with body mass index (BMI) (P = 6.0×10−4); and rs2395185, affecting inter-depot differences of HLA-DRB1 expression, was associated with high-density lipoprotein (P = 8.7×10−4) and BMI–adjusted waist-to-hip ratio (P = 2.4×10−4). Since many genes and their interactions influence complex traits such as MetS, integrated analysis of genotypes and coexpression networks across multiple tissues relevant to clinical traits is an efficient strategy to identify novel associations.
Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) is a highly prevalent disorder with considerable public health concern, but its underlying genetic factors remain elusive. Given that most cellular components exert their functions through interactions with other cellular components, even the largest of genome-wide association (GWA) studies may often not detect their effects, nor necessarily provide insight into the complex molecular mechanisms of the disease. Rather than focusing on individual genes, the analysis of coexpression networks can be used for finding clusters (modules) of correlated expression levels across samples. In this study, we used a gene network–based approach for integrating clinical MetS, genotypic, and gene expression data from abdominal and gluteal adipose tissue and whole blood. We identified modules of genes related to MetS significantly enriched for immune response and oxidative phosphorylation pathways. We tested SNPs for association with MetS–associated expression (eSNPs), and tested prioritised eSNPs for association with MetS–related phenotypes in two large-scale GWA datasets. We identified two loci, neither of which had reached genome-wide significance levels in GWAs, associated with expression levels of RARRES2 and HLA-DRB1 and with MetS–related phenotypes, demonstrating that the integrated analysis of genotype and expression data from relevant multiple tissues can identify novel associations with complex traits such as MetS.