Placental genomics mediates genetic associations with complex health traits and disease

Bhattacharya A, Freedman AN, Avula V, Harris R, Liu W, Pan C, Lusis AJ, Joseph RM, Smeester L, Hartwell HJ, Kuban KCK, Marsit CJ, Li Y, O’Shea TM, Fry RC, Santos HP Jr.

Nat Commun. 2022 Feb 4;13(1):706. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-28365-x. PMID: 35121757; PMCID: PMC8817049

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As the master regulator in utero, the placenta is core to the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis but is historically understudied. To identify placental gene-trait associations (GTAs) across the life course, we perform distal mediator-enriched transcriptome-wide association studies (TWAS) for 40 traits, integrating placental multi-omics from the Extremely Low Gestational Age Newborn Study. At [Formula: see text], we detect 248 GTAs, mostly for neonatal and metabolic traits, across 176 genes, enriched for cell growth and immunological pathways. In aggregate, genetic effects mediated by placental expression significantly explain 4 early-life traits but no later-in-life traits. 89 GTAs show significant mediation through distal genetic variants, identifying hypotheses for distal regulation of GTAs. Investigation of one hypothesis in human placenta-derived choriocarcinoma cells reveal that knockdown of mediator gene EPS15 upregulates predicted targets SPATA13 and FAM214A, both associated with waist-hip ratio in TWAS, and multiple genes involved in metabolic pathways. These results suggest profound health impacts of placental genomic regulation in developmental programming across the life course.