Constraints on eQTL fine mapping in the presence of multisite local regulation of gene expression

Biao Zeng, Luke R. Lloyd-Jones, Alexander Holloway, Urko M. Marigorta, Andres Metspalu, Grant W. Montgomery, Tonu Esko, Kenneth L. Brigham, Arshed A. Quyyumi, Youssef Idaghdour, Jian Yang, Peter M. Visscher, Joseph E. Powell, Greg Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) detection has emerged as an important tool for unraveling of the relationship between genetic risk factors and disease or clinical phenotypes. Most studies use single marker linear regression to discover primary signals, followed by sequential conditional modeling to detect secondary genetic variants affecting gene expression. However, this approach assumes that functional variants are sparsely distributed and that close linkage between them has little impact on estimation of their precise location and the magnitude of effects. We describe a series of simulation studies designed to evaluate the impact of linkage disequilibrium (LD) on the fine mapping of causal variants with typical eQTL effect sizes. In the presence of multisite regulation, even though between 80 and 90% of modeled eSNPs associate with normally distributed traits, up to 10% of all secondary signals could be statistical artifacts, and at least 5% but up to one-quarter of credible intervals of SNPs within r2 > 0.8 of the peak may not even include a causal site. The Bayesian methods eCAVIAR and DAP (Deterministic Approximation of Posteriors) provide only modest improvement in resolution. Given the strong empirical evidence that gene expression is commonly regulated by more than one variant, we conclude that the fine mapping of causal variants needs to be adjusted for multisite influences, as conditional estimates can be highly biased by interference among linked sites, but ultimately experimental verification of individual effects is needed. Presumably similar conclusions apply not just to eQTL mapping, but to multisite influences on fine mapping of most types of quantitative trait.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2533-2544
Number of pages12
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2017


  • Colocalization
  • Fine mapping
  • Gene regulation
  • Linkage disequilibrium
  • Multivariable regression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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