Modeling regulatory network topology improves genome-wide analyses of complex human traits

Xiang Zhu, Zhana Duren, Wing Hung Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have cataloged many significant associations between genetic variants and complex traits. However, most of these findings have unclear biological significance, because they often have small effects and occur in non-coding regions. Integration of GWAS with gene regulatory networks addresses both issues by aggregating weak genetic signals within regulatory programs. Here we develop a Bayesian framework that integrates GWAS summary statistics with regulatory networks to infer genetic enrichments and associations simultaneously. Our method improves upon existing approaches by explicitly modeling network topology to assess enrichments, and by automatically leveraging enrichments to identify associations. Applying this method to 18 human traits and 38 regulatory networks shows that genetic signals of complex traits are often enriched in interconnections specific to trait-relevant cell types or tissues. Prioritizing variants within enriched networks identifies known and previously undescribed trait-associated genes revealing biological and therapeutic insights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2851
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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