A Novel Mapping Strategy Utilizing Mouse Chromosome Substitution Strains Identifies Multiple Epistatic Interactions That Regulate Complex Traits


The genetic contribution of additive versus non-additive (epistasis) effects in the regulation of hematologic and other complex traits is unclear. While genome-wide association studies typically ignore gene-gene interactions, in part because of the lack of statistical power for detecting them, mouse chromosome substitution strains (CSSs) represent an alternate and powerful model for detecting epistasis given their limited allelic variation. Therefore, we utilized CSSs to identify and map both additive and epistatic loci that regulate a range of hematologic- and metabolism-related traits, as well as hepatic gene expression. Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) were identified using a modified backcross strategy involving the segregation of variants on the A/J-derived substituted chromosomes 4 and 6 on an otherwise C57BL/6J genetic background. By analyzing the transcriptomes of offspring from this cross, we identified and mapped additive QTLs regulating the expression of 768 genes, and epistatic QTL pairs for 519 genes. Similarly, we identified additive QTLs for fat pad weight, platelets, and the percentage of granulocytes in blood, as well as epistatic QTL pairs controlling the percentage of lymphocytes in blood and red cell distribution width. The variance attributed to the epistatic QTLs was approximately equal to that of the additive QTLs, demonstrating the importance of identifying genetic interactions to understand the genetic architecture of complex traits. Of particular note, even the epistatic QTLs that accounted for the largest variances were undetected in our single loci GWAS-like association analyses, highlighting the need to account for epistasis in association studies.

Anna K. Miller
Anna K. Miller
PhD in Genetics and Genome Science, in Progress

My research interests include genetic epidemiology and epistasis matter.