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Genetics and epigenetics

Detecting epistasis within chromatin regulatory circuitry reveals CAND2 as a novel susceptibility gene for obesity



Genome-wide association studies have identified many susceptibility loci for obesity. However, missing heritability problem is still challenging and ignorance of genetic interactions is believed to be an important cause. Current methods for detecting interactions usually do not consider regulatory elements in non-coding regions. Interaction analyses within chromatin regulatory circuitry may identify new susceptibility loci.


We developed a pipeline named interaction analyses within chromatin regulatory circuitry (IACRC), to identify genetic interactions impacting body mass index (BMI). Potential interacting SNP pairs were obtained based on Hi-C datasets, PreSTIGE (Predicting Specific Tissue Interactions of Genes and Enhancers) algorithm, and super enhancer regions. SNP × SNP analyses were next performed in three GWAS datasets, including 2286 unrelated Caucasians from Kansas City, 3062 healthy Caucasians from the Gene Environment Association Studies initiative, and 3164 Hispanic subjects from the Women’s Health Initiative.


A total of 16,643,227 SNP × SNP analyses were performed. Meta-analyses showed that two SNP pairs, rs6808450–rs9813534 (combined P = 2.39 × 10−9) and rs6808450–rs3773306 (combined P = 2.89 × 10−9) were associated with BMI after multiple testing corrections. Single-SNP analyses did not detect significant association signals for these three SNPs. In obesity relevant cells, rs6808450 is located in intergenic enhancers, while rs9813534 and rs3773306 are located in the region of strong transcription regions of CAND2 and RPL32, respectively. The expression of CAND2 was significantly downregulated after the differentiation of human Simpson–Golabi–Behmel syndrome (SGBS) preadipocyte cells (P = 0.0241). Functional validation in the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium database showed that CAND2 was associated with increased lean body mass and decreased total body fat amount.


Detecting epistasis within chromatin regulatory circuitry identified CAND2 as a novel obesity susceptibility gene. We hope IACRC could facilitate the interaction analyses for complex diseases and offer new insights into solving the missing heritability problem.

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We thank the Gene Environment Association Studies initiative (GENEVA) which aimed to identify genetic factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes mellitus. We also thank the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) project. When we performed the current study, we did not collaborate with the investigators of these projects. Therefore, our study does not necessarily reflect the opinions of them. The datasets we used were obtained through dbGaP authorized access with the accession number of phs000091.v2.p1 and phs000386.v7.p3.


This study is supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31371278, 81573241, 31701095, and 31771399); China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2016M602797); Natural Science Basic Research Program Shaanxi Province (2016JQ3026); and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.

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Correspondence to Tie-Lin Yang.

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