Conditional entropy in variation-adjusted windows detects selection signatures associated with expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs)

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Background: Over the past 50,000 years, shifts in human-environmental or human-human interactions shaped genetic differences within and among human populations, including variants under positive selection. Shaped by environmental factors, such variants influence the genetics of modern health, disease, and treatment outcome. Because evolutionary processes tend to act on gene regulation, we test whether regulatory variants are under positive selection. We introduce a new approach to enhance detection of genetic markers undergoing positive selection, using conditional entropy to capture recent local selection signals. Results We use conditional logistic regression to compare our Adjusted Haplotype Conditional Entropy (H|H) measure of positive selection to existing positive selection measures. H|H and existing measures were applied to published regulatory variants acting in cis (cis-eQTLs), with conditional logistic regression testing whether regulatory variants undergo stronger positive selection than the surrounding gene. These cis-eQTLs were drawn from six independent studies of genotype and RNA expression. The conditional logistic regression shows that, overall, H|H is substantially more powerful than existing positive-selection methods in identifying cis-eQTLs against other Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) in the same genes. When broken down by Gene Ontology, H|H predictions are particularly strong in some biological process categories, where regulatory variants are under strong positive selection compared to the bulk of the gene, distinct from those GO categories under overall positive selection.. However, cis-eQTLs in a second group of genes lack positive selection signatures detectable by H|H, consistent with ancient short haplotypes compared to the surrounding gene (for example, in innate immunity GO:0042742); under such other modes of selection, H|H would not be expected to be a strong predictor.. These conditional logistic regression models are adjusted for Minor allele frequency(MAF); otherwise, ascertainment bias is a huge factor in all eQTL data sets. Relationships between Gene Ontology categories, positive selection and eQTL specificity were replicated with H|H in a single larger data set. Our measure, Adjusted Haplotype Conditional Entropy (H|H), was essential in generating all of the results above because it: 1) is a stronger overall predictor for eQTLs than comparable existing approaches, and 2) shows low sequential auto-correlation, overcoming problems with convergence of these conditional regression statistical models. Conclusions: Our new method, H|H, provides a consistently more robust signal associated with cis-eQTLs compared to existing methods. We interpret this to indicate that some cis-eQTLs are under positive selection compared to their surrounding genes. Conditional entropy indicative of a selective sweep is an especially strong predictor of eQTLs for genes in several biological processes of medical interest. Where conditional entropy is a weak or negative predictor of eQTLs, such as innate immune genes, this would be consistent with balancing selection acting on such eQTLs over long time periods. Different measures of selection may be needed for variant prioritization under other modes of evolutionary selection.




Handelman, S. K., Seweryn, M., Smith, R. M., Hartmann, K., Wang, D., Pietrzak, M., … Sadee, W. (2015). Conditional entropy in variation-adjusted windows detects selection signatures associated with expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). BMC Genomics, 16(8).

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