eQTL discovery and their association with severe equine asthma in European Warmblood horses

Victor C. Mason, Robert J. Schaefer, Molly E. McCue, Tosso Leeb, Vinzenz Gerber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Severe equine asthma, also known as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), is a debilitating, performance limiting, obstructive respiratory condition in horses that is phenotypically similar to human asthma. Past genome wide association studies (GWAS) have not discovered coding variants associated with RAO, leading to the hypothesis that causative variant(s) underlying the signals are likely non-coding, regulatory variant(s). Regions of the genome containing variants that influence the number of expressed RNA molecules are expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). Variation associated with RAO that also regulates a gene's expression in a disease relevant tissue could help identify candidate genes that influence RAO if that gene's expression is also associated with RAO disease status. Results: We searched for eQTLs by analyzing peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from two half-sib families and one unrelated cohort of 82 European Warmblood horses that were previously treated in vitro with: no stimulation (MCK), lipopolysaccharides (LPS), recombinant cyathostomin antigen (RCA), and hay-dust extract (HDE). We identified high confidence eQTLs that did not violate linear modeling assumptions and were not significant due to single outlier individuals. We identified a mean of 4347 high confidence eQTLs in four treatments of PBMCs, and discovered two trans regulatory hotspots regulating genes involved in related biological pathways. We corroborated previous RAO associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and increased the resolution of past GWAS by analyzing 1,056,195 SNPs in 361 individuals. We identified four RAO-associated SNPs that only regulate gene expression of dexamethasone-induced protein (DEXI), however we found no significant association between DEXI gene expression and presence of RAO. Conclusions: Thousands of genetic variants regulate gene expression in PBMCs of European Warmblood horses in cis and trans. Most high confidence eSNPs are significantly enriched near the transcription start sites of their target genes. Two trans regulatory hotspots on chromosome 11 and 13 regulate many genes involved in transmembrane cell signaling and neurological development respectively when PBMCs are treated with HDE. None of the top fifteen RAO associated SNPs strongly influence disease status through gene expression regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number581
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant number 31003A-162548/1) and the ISME (Swiss Intitute of Equine Medicine) Research Group.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • GWAS
  • Horses
  • PBMCs
  • RAO
  • Trans regulatory hotspot
  • cis eQTL
  • trans eQTL


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