Multi-omics analyses of cognitive traits and psychiatric disorders highlights brain-dependent mechanisms

Roxanna Korologou-Linden, Genevieve M Leyden, Caroline L Relton, Rebecca C Richmond, Tom G Richardson
Human Molecular Genetics 2021 January 22
Integrating findings from genome-wide association studies with molecular datasets can develop insight into the underlying functional mechanisms responsible for trait-associated genetic variants. We have applied the principles of Mendelian randomization (MR) to investigate whether brain-derived gene expression (n = 1194) may be responsible for mediating the effect of genetic variants on eight cognitive and psychological outcomes (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer's disease, bipolar disorder, depression, intelligence, insomnia, neuroticism and schizophrenia). Transcriptome-wide analyses identified 83 genes associated with at least one outcome (PBonferroni < 6.72 × 10-6), with multiple-trait colocalization also implicating changes to brain-derived DNA methylation at nine of these loci. Comparing effects between outcomes identified evidence of enrichment which may reflect putative causal relationships, such as an inverse relationship between genetic liability towards schizophrenia risk and cognitive ability in later life. Repeating these analyses in whole blood (n = 31 684), we replicated 58.2% of brain-derived effects (based on P < 0.05). Finally, we undertook phenome-wide evaluations at associated loci to investigate pleiotropic effects with 700 complex traits. This highlighted pleiotropic loci such as FURIN (initially implicated in schizophrenia risk (P = 1.05 × 10-7)) which had evidence of an effect on 28 other outcomes, as well as genes which may have a more specific role in disease pathogenesis (e.g. SLC12A5 which only provided evidence of an effect on depression (P = 7.13 × 10-10)). Our results support the utility of whole blood as a valuable proxy for informing initial target identification but also suggest that gene discovery in a tissue-specific manner may be more informative. Finally, non-pleiotropic loci highlighted by our study may be of use for therapeutic translational endeavours.

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