Interindividual variation in cytosine modifications could contribute to heterogeneity in disease risks and other complex traits. We assessed the genetic architecture of cytosine modifications at 283,540 CpG sites in lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) derived from independent samples of European and African descent. Our study suggests that cytosine modification variation was primarily controlled in local by single major modification quantitative trait locus (mQTL) and additional minor loci. Local genetic epistasis was detectable for a small proportion of CpG sites, which were enriched by more than 9-fold for CpG sites mapped to population-specific mQTL. Genetically dependent CpG sites whose modification levels negatively (repressive sites) or positively (facilitative sites) correlated with gene expression levels significantly co-localized with transcription factor binding, with the repressive sites predominantly associated with active promoters whereas the facilitative sites rarely at active promoters. Genetically independent repressive or facilitative sites preferentially modulated gene expression variation by influencing local chromatin accessibility, with the facilitative sites primarily antagonizing H3K27me3 and H3K9me3 deposition. In comparison with expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL), mQTL detected from LCLs were enriched in associations for a broader range of disease categories including chronic inflammatory, autoimmune and psychiatric disorders, suggesting that cytosine modification variation, while possesses a degree of cell linage specificity, is more stably inherited over development than gene expression variation. About 11% of unique single-nucleotide polymorphisms reported in the Genome-Wide Association Study Catalog were annotated, 78% as mQTL and 31% as eQTL in LCLs, which covered 37% of the investigated diseases/traits and provided insights to the biological mechanisms.
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