Dissection of complex gene expression using the combined analysis of pleiotropy and epistasis.

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Pac Symp Biocomput 2014; 19:212-23.



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Global transcript expression experiments are commonly used to investigate the biological processes that underlie complex traits. These studies can exhibit complex patterns of pleiotropy when trans-acting genetic factors influence overlapping sets of multiple transcripts. Dissecting these patterns into biological modules with distinct genetic etiology can provide models of how genetic variants affect specific processes that contribute to a trait. Here we identify transcript modules associated with pleiotropic genetic factors and apply genetic interaction analysis to disentangle the regulatory architecture in a mouse intercross study of kidney function. The method, called the combined analysis of pleiotropy and epistasis (CAPE), has been previously used to model genetic networks for multiple physiological traits. It simultaneously models multiple phenotypes to identify direct genetic influences as well as influences mediated through genetic interactions. We first identify candidate trans expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) and the transcripts potentially affected. We then clustered the transcripts into modules of co-expressed genes, from which we compute summary module phenotypes. Finally, we applied CAPE to map the network of interacting module QTL (modQTL) affecting the gene modules. The resulting network mapped how multiple modQTL both directly and indirectly affect modules associated with metabolic functions and biosynthetic processes. This work demonstrates how the integration of pleiotropic signals in gene expression data can be used to infer a complex hypothesis of how multiple loci interact to co-regulate transcription programs, thereby providing additional constraints to prioritize validation experiments. Pac Symp Biocomput 2014; 19:212-23.