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Mapping the convergence of genes for coronary artery disease onto endothelial cell programs

Schnitzler GR, Kang H, Lee-Kim VS, Ma XR, Zeng T, Angom RS, Fang S, Vellarikkal SK, Zhou R, Guo K, Sias-Garcia O, Bloemendal A, Glen Munson, Guckelberger P, Nguyen TH, Bergman DT, Cheng N, Cleary B, Aragam K, Mukhopadhyay D, Lander ES, Finucane HK, Gupta RM, Engreitz JM
bioRxiv. 2022;[preprint] doi:10.1101/2022.11.01.514606
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have discovered thousands of risk loci for common, complex diseases, each of which could point to genes and gene programs that influence disease. For some diseases, it has been observed that GWAS signals converge on a smaller number of biological programs, and that this convergence can help to identify causal genes. However, identifying such convergence remains challenging: each GWAS locus can have many candidate genes, each gene might act in one or more possible programs, and it remains unclear which programs might influence disease risk. Here, we developed a new approach to address this challenge, by creating unbiased maps to link disease variants to genes to programs (V2G2P) in a given cell type. We applied this approach to study the role of endothelial cells in the genetics of coronary artery disease (CAD). To link variants to genes, we constructed enhancer-gene maps using the Activity-by-Contact model. To link genes to programs, we applied CRISPRi-Perturb-seq to knock down all expressed genes within ±500 Kb of 306 CAD GWAS signals and identify their effects on gene expression programs using single-cell RNA-sequencing. By combining these variant-to-gene and gene-to-program maps, we find that 43 of 306 CAD GWAS signals converge onto 5 gene programs linked to the cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM) pathway - which is known to coordinate transcriptional responses in endothelial cells, but has not been previously linked to CAD risk. The strongest regulator of these programs is TLNRD1, which we show is a new CAD gene and novel regulator of the CCM pathway. TLNRD1 loss-of-function alters actin organization and barrier function in endothelial cells in vitro, and heart development in zebrafish in vivo. Together, our study identifies convergence of CAD risk loci into prioritized gene programs in endothelial cells, nominates new genes of potential therapeutic relevance for CAD, and demonstrates a generalizable strategy to connect disease variants to functions.
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