Coronary artery disease (CAD) has a strong genetic predisposition. However, despite substantial discoveries made by genome-wide association studies (GWAS), a large proportion of heritability awaits identification. Non-additive genetic-effects might be responsible for part of the unaccounted genetic variance. Here we attempted a proof-of-concept study to identify non-additive genetic effects, namely epistatic interactions, associated with CAD.
We tested for epistatic interactions in ten CAD case-control studies and UK Biobank with focus on 8,068 SNPs at 56 loci with known associations with CAD risk. We identified a SNP pair located in cis at the LPA locus, rs1800769 and rs9458001, to be jointly associated with risk for CAD (odds ratio [OR]=1.37, p = 1.07 × 10-11), peripheral arterial disease (OR = 1.22, p = 2.32 × 10-4), aortic stenosis (OR = 1.47, p = 6.95 × 10-7), hepatic lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a)) transcript levels (beta = 0.39, p = 1.41 × 10-8), and Lp(a) serum levels (beta = 0.58, p = 8.7 × 10-32), while individual SNPs displayed no association. Further exploration of the LPA locus revealed a strong dependency of these associations on a rare variant, rs140570886, that was previously associated with Lp(a) levels. We confirmed increased CAD risk for heterozygous (relative OR = 1.46, p = 9.97 × 10-32) and individuals homozygous for the minor allele (relative OR = 1.77, p = 0.09) of rs140570886. Using forward model selection, we also show that epistatic interactions between rs140570886, rs9458001, and rs1800769 modulate the effects of the rs140570886 risk allele.
These results demonstrate the feasibility of a large-scale knowledge-based epistasis scan and provide rare evidence of an epistatic interaction in a complex human disease. We were directed to a variant (rs140570886) influencing risk through additive genetic as well as epistatic effects. In summary, this study provides deeper insights into the genetic architecture of a locus important for cardiovascular diseases.
Genetic variants identified by GWAS studies explain about a quarter of the heritability of coronary artery disease by additive genetic effects. Our study demonstrates that non-additive effects contribute to the genetic architecture of the disease as well and identifies complex interaction patterns at the LPA locus, which affect LPA expression, Lp(a) plasma levels and risk of atherosclerosis. This proof-of-concept study encourages systematic searches for epistatic interactions in further studies to shed new light on the aetiology of the disease.

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology.