School of Medicine Publications and Presentations

Evaluating the contribution of rare variants to type 2 diabetes and related traits using pedigrees

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Contributions of rare variants to common and complex traits such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) are difficult to measure. This paper describes our results from deep whole-genome analysis of large Mexican-American pedigrees to understand the role of rare-sequence variations in T2D and related traits through enriched allele counts in pedigrees. Our study design was well-powered to detect association of rare variants if rare variants with large effects collectively accounted for large portions of risk variability, but our results did not identify such variants in this sample. We further quantified the contributions of common and rare variants in gene expression profiles and concluded that rare expression quantitative trait loci explain a substantive, but minor, portion of expression heritability.


A major challenge in evaluating the contribution of rare variants to complex disease is identifying enough copies of the rare alleles to permit informative statistical analysis. To investigate the contribution of rare variants to the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D) and related traits, we performed deep whole-genome analysis of 1,034 members of 20 large Mexican-American families with high prevalence of T2D. If rare variants of large effect accounted for much of the diabetes risk in these families, our experiment was powered to detect association. Using gene expression data on 21,677 transcripts for 643 pedigree members, we identified evidence for large-effect rare-variant cis-expression quantitative trait loci that could not be detected in population studies, validating our approach. However, we did not identify any rare variants of large effect associated with T2D, or the related traits of fasting glucose and insulin, suggesting that large-effect rare variants account for only a modest fraction of the genetic risk of these traits in this sample of families. Reliable identification of large-effect rare variants will require larger samples of extended pedigrees or different study designs that further enrich for such variants.


Published under the PNAS license.

Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America



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Office of Human Genetics