Genetic analysis of isoform usage in the human anti-viral response reveals influenza-specific regulation of transcripts under balancing selection.
While genetic variants are known to be associated with overall gene abundance in stimulated immune cells, less is known about their effects on alternative isoform usage. By analyzing RNA-seq profiles of monocyte-derived dendritic cells from 243 individuals, we uncovered thousands of unannotated isoforms synthesized in response to influenza infection and type 1 interferon stimulation. We identified more than a thousand quantitative trait loci (QTLs) associated with alternate isoform usage (isoQTLs), many of which are independent of expression QTLs (eQTLs) for the same gene. Compared with eQTLs, isoQTLs are enriched for splice sites and untranslated regions, but depleted of sequences upstream of annotated transcription start sites. Both eQTLs and isoQTLs explain a significant proportion of the disease heritability attributed to common genetic variants. At the locus, we shed light on the function of the gene and how two frequent, highly differentiated haplotypes with intermediate frequencies could be maintained by balancing selection. At baseline and following type 1 interferon stimulation, the major haplotype is associated with low expression caused by nonsense-mediated decay, while the minor haplotype, known to increase Crohn's disease risk, is associated with high expression. In response to influenza infection, we found two uncharacterized isoforms expressed from the major haplotype, likely the result of multiple perfectly linked variants affecting the transcription and splicing at the locus. Thus, genetic variants at a single locus could modulate independent gene regulatory processes in innate immune responses and, in the case of , may confer a historical fitness advantage in response to virus.
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R01 AI136972 / AI / NIAID NIH HHS / United States
RM1 HG006193 / HG / NHGRI NIH HHS / United States
T32 CA207021 / CA / NCI NIH HHS / United States
R01 AR071522 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States
P50 HG006193 / HG / NHGRI NIH HHS / United States
RC2 GM093080 / GM / NIGMS NIH HHS / United States