Defining the Functional Mechanism of FHL5 that Underlies Coronary Artery Disease Risk

Wong, Doris, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics - School of Medicine, University of Virginia
Miller, Clint, MD-PBHS Public Health Sciences Admin, University of Virginia

Background: Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified hundreds of loci associated with common vascular diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD), myocardial infarction (MI), and hypertension. However, the lack of mechanistic insights for a majority of these loci limits translation of these findings into the clinic. Among these loci with unknown functions is UFL1-FHL5 (chr6q16.1), a locus that reached genome-wide significance in a recent CAD/MI GWAS meta-analysis. In addition to CAD/MI, UFL1-FHL5 is also implicated to coronary calcium, intracranial aneurysm and migraine risk, consistent with the widespread pleiotropy observed among other GWAS loci.

Methods: We apply a multimodal approach leveraging statistical fine-mapping, epigenomic profiling, and imaging of human coronary artery tissues to implicate Four and-a-half LIM domain 5 (FHL5) as the top candidate causal gene. We unravel the molecular mechanisms of the cross-phenotype genetic associations through in vitro functional analyses and epigenomic profiling experiments.

Results: We prioritized FHL5 as the top candidate causal gene at the UFL1-FHL5 locus through eQTL colocalization methods. FHL5 gene expression was enriched in the SMC and pericyte population in human artery tissues with coexpression network analyses supporting a functional role in regulating SMC contraction. Unexpectedly, under procalcifying conditions, FHL5 overexpression promoted vascular calcification and dysregulated processes related to extracellular matrix organization and calcium
handling. Lastly, by mapping FHL5 binding sites and inferring FHL5 target genes function using artery tissue gene regulatory network analyses, we highlight regulatory interactions between FHL5 and downstream CAD/MI loci, such as FOXL1 and FN1 that have roles in vascular remodeling.

Conclusion: Taken together, these studies provide mechanistic insights into the pleiotropic genetic associations of UFL1-FHL5. We show that FHL5 mediates vascular disease risk through transcriptional regulation of downstream vascular remodeling loci. These trans-acting mechanisms may account for a portion of the heritable risk for complex vascular diseases.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Coronary Artery Disease , Smooth Muscle Cells , FHL5
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