Discovering Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Regulating Human Gene Expression Using Allele Specific Expression from RNA-seq Data

Date Published:

2016 11


The study of the genetics of gene expression is of considerable importance to understanding the nature of common, complex diseases. The most widely applied approach to identifying relationships between genetic variation and gene expression is the expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) approach. Here, we increased the computational power of eQTL with an alternative and complementary approach based on analyzing allele specific expression (ASE). We designed a novel analytical method to identify cis-acting regulatory variants based on genome sequencing and measurements of ASE from RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) data. We evaluated the power and resolution of our method using simulated data. We then applied the method to map regulatory variants affecting gene expression in lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) from 77 unrelated northern and western European individuals (CEU), which were part of the HapMap project. A total of 2309 SNPs were identified as being associated with ASE patterns. The SNPs associated with ASE were enriched within promoter regions and were significantly more likely to signal strong evidence for a regulatory role. Finally, among the candidate regulatory SNPs, we identified 108 SNPs that were previously associated with human immune diseases. With further improvements in quantifying ASE from RNA-seq, the application of our method to other datasets is expected to accelerate our understanding of the biological basis of common diseases.