Mechanistic phenotypes: An aggregative phenotyping strategy to identify disease mechanisms using GWAS data

Jonathan D. Mosley, Sara L. Van Driest, Emma K. Larkin, Peter E. Weeke, John S. Witte, Quinn S. Wells, Jason H. Karnes, Yan Guo, Lisa Bastarache, Lana M. Olson, Catherine A. McCarty, Jennifer A. Pacheco, Gail P. Jarvik, David S. Carrell, Eric B. Larson, David R. Crosslin, Iftikhar J. Kullo, Gerard Tromp, Helena Kuivaniemi, David J. CareyMarylyn D. Ritchie, Josh C. Denny, Dan M. Roden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A single mutation can alter cellular and global homeostatic mechanisms and give rise to multiple clinical diseases. We hypothesized that these disease mechanisms could be identified using low minor allele frequency (MAF<0.1) non-synonymous SNPs (nsSNPs) associated with "mechanistic phenotypes", comprised of collections of related diagnoses. We studied two mechanistic phenotypes: (1) thrombosis, evaluated in a population of 1,655 African Americans; and (2) four groupings of cancer diagnoses, evaluated in 3,009 white European Americans. We tested associations between nsSNPs represented on GWAS platforms and mechanistic phenotypes ascertained from electronic medical records (EMRs), and sought enrichment in functional ontologies across the top-ranked associations. We used a two-step analytic approach whereby nsSNPs were first sorted by the strength of their association with a phenotype. We tested associations using two reverse genetic models and standard additive and recessive models. In the second step, we employed a hypothesis-free ontological enrichment analysis using the sorted nsSNPs to identify functional mechanisms underlying the diagnoses comprising the mechanistic phenotypes. The thrombosis phenotype was solely associated with ontologies related to blood coagulation (Fisher's p = 0.0001, FDR p = 0.03), driven by the F5, P2RY12 and F2RL2 genes. For the cancer phenotypes, the reverse genetics models were enriched in DNA repair functions (p = 2x10-5, FDR p = 0.03) (POLG/FANCI, SLX4/FANCP, XRCC1, BRCA1, FANCA, CHD1L) while the additive model showed enrichment related to chromatid segregation (p = 4610-6, FDR p = 0.005) (KIF25, PINX1). We were able to replicate nsSNP associations for POLG/FANCI, BRCA1, FANCA and CHD1L in independent data sets. Mechanism-oriented phenotyping using collections of EMR-derived diagnoses can elucidate fundamental disease mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere81503
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 12 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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