Natural Killer cells demonstrate distinct eQTL and transcriptome-wide disease associations, highlighting their role in autoimmunity
Gilchrist J., Makino S., Naranbhai V., Lau E., Danielli S., Hameiri-Bowen D., Lee W., Ng E., Whalley J., Knight J., Fairfax B.
Natural Killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with central roles in immunosurveillance and are implicated in autoimmune pathogenesis. The degree to which regulatory variants affect NK gene expression is poorly understood. We performed expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) mapping of negatively selected NK cells from a population of healthy Europeans (n=245). We find a significant subset of genes demonstrate eQTL specific to NK cells and these are highly informative of human disease, in particular autoimmunity. An NK cell transcriptome-wide association study (TWAS) across five common autoimmune diseases identified further novel associations at 27 genes. In addition to these cis observations, we find novel master-regulatory regions impacting expression of trans gene networks at regions including 19q13.4, the Killer cell Immunoglobulin-like Receptor (KIR) Region, GNLY and MC1R . Our findings provide new insights into the unique biology of NK cells, demonstrating markedly different eQTL from other immune cells, with implications for disease mechanisms.