EPISPOT: An epigenome-driven approach for detecting and interpreting hotspots in molecular QTL studies.
Ruffieux H., Fairfax BP., Nassiri I., Vigorito E., Wallace C., Richardson S., Bottolo L.
We present EPISPOT, a fully joint framework which exploits large panels of epigenetic annotations as variant-level information to enhance molecular quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping. Thanks to a purpose-built Bayesian inferential algorithm, EPISPOT accommodates functional information for both cis and trans actions, including QTL hotspot effects. It effectively couples simultaneous QTL analysis of thousands of genetic variants and molecular traits with hypothesis-free selection of biologically interpretable annotations which directly contribute to the QTL effects. This unified, epigenome-aided learning boosts statistical power and sheds light on the regulatory basis of the uncovered hits; EPISPOT therefore marks an essential step toward improving the challenging detection and functional interpretation of trans-acting genetic variants and hotspots. We illustrate the advantages of EPISPOT in simulations emulating real-data conditions and in a monocyte expression QTL study, which confirms known hotspots and finds other signals, as well as plausible mechanisms of action. In particular, by highlighting the role of monocyte DNase-I sensitivity sites from >150 epigenetic annotations, we clarify the mediation effects and cell-type specificity of major hotspots close to the lysozyme gene. Our approach forgoes the daunting and underpowered task of one-annotation-at-a-time enrichment analyses for prioritizing cis and trans QTL hits and is tailored to any transcriptomic, proteomic, or metabolomic QTL problem. By enabling principled epigenome-driven QTL mapping transcriptome-wide, EPISPOT helps progress toward a better functional understanding of genetic regulation.