Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified 19 risk variants associated with colorectal cancer. As most of these risk variants reside outside the coding regions of genes, we conducted cis-expression quantitative trait loci (cis-eQTL) analyses to investigate possible regulatory functions on the expression of neighboring genes. Forty microsatellite stable and CpG island methylator phenotype-negative colorectal tumors and paired adjacent normal colon tissues were used for genome-wide SNP and gene expression profiling. We found that three risk variants (rs10795668, rs4444235 and rs9929218, using near perfect proxies rs706771, rs11623717 and rs2059252, respectively) were significantly associated (FDR q-value ≤0.05) with expression levels of nearby genes (<2 Mb up- or down-stream). We observed an association between the low colorectal cancer risk allele (A) for rs10795668 at 10p14 and increased expression of ATP5C1 (q = 0.024) and between the colorectal cancer high risk allele (C) for rs4444235 at 14q22.2 and increased expression of DLGAP5 (q = 0.041), both in tumor samples. The colorectal cancer low risk allele (A) for rs9929218 at 16q22.1 was associated with a significant decrease in expression of both NOL3 (q = 0.017) and DDX28 (q = 0.046) in the adjacent normal colon tissue samples. Of the four genes, DLGAP5 and NOL3 have been previously reported to play a role in colon carcinogenesis and ATP5C1 and DDX28 are mitochondrial proteins involved in cellular metabolism and division, respectively. The combination of GWAS findings, prior functional studies, and the cis-eQTL analyses described here suggest putative functional activities for three of the colorectal cancer GWAS identified risk loci as regulating the expression of neighboring genes.
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