MRLocus: identifying causal genes mediating a trait through Bayesian estimation of allelic heterogeneity
Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) studies are used to understand the regulatory function of non-coding genome-wide association study (GWAS) risk loci, but colocalization alone does not demonstrate a causal relationship of gene expression affecting a trait. Evidence for mediation, that perturbation of gene expression in a given tissue or developmental context will induce a change in the downstream GWAS trait, can be provided by two-sample Mendelian Randomization (MR). Here, we introduce a new statistical method, MRLocus, for Bayesian estimation of the gene-to-trait effect from eQTL and GWAS summary data for loci displaying allelic heterogeneity, that is, containing multiple LD-independent eQTLs. MRLocus makes use of a colocalization step applied to each eQTL, followed by an MR analysis step across eQTLs. Additionally, our method involves estimation of allelic heterogeneity through a dispersion parameter, indicating variable mediation effects from each individual eQTL on the downstream trait. Our method is evaluated against state-of-the-art methods for estimation of the gene-to-trait mediation effect, using an existing simulation framework. In simulation, MRLocus often has the highest accuracy among competing methods, and in each case provides more accurate estimation of uncertainty as assessed through interval coverage. MRLocus is then applied to five causal candidate genes for mediation of particular GWAS traits, where gene-to-trait effects are concordant with those previously reported. We find that MRLocus’ estimation of the causal effect across eQTLs within a locus provides useful information for determining how perturbation of gene expression or individual regulatory elements will affect downstream traits. The MRLocus method is implemented as an R package available at <https://mikelove.github.io/mrlocus>. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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