A genome-wide association study of neutrophil count in individuals associated to an African continental ancestry group facilitates studies of malaria pathogenesis

Andrei-Emil Constantinescu, David A Hughes, Caroline J Bull, Kathryn Fleming, Ruth E Mitchell, Jie Zheng, Siddhartha Kar, Nicholas J Timpson, Borko Amulic, Emma E Vincent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Background
'Benign ethnic neutropenia' (BEN) is a heritable condition characterized by lower neutrophil counts, predominantly observed in individuals of African ancestry, and the genetic basis of BEN remains a subject of extensive research. In this study, we aimed to dissect the genetic architecture underlying neutrophil count variation through a linear-mixed model genome-wide association study (GWAS) in a population of African ancestry (N = 5976). Malaria caused by P. falciparum imposes a tremendous public health burden on people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Individuals living in malaria endemic regions often have a reduced circulating neutrophil count due to BEN, raising the possibility that reduced neutrophil counts modulate severity of malaria in susceptible populations. As a follow-up, we tested this hypothesis by conducting a Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis of neutrophil counts on severe malaria (MalariaGEN, N = 17,056).

Results
We carried out a GWAS of neutrophil count in individuals associated to an African continental ancestry group within UK Biobank, identifying 73 loci (r2 = 0.1) and 10 index SNPs (GCTA-COJO loci) associated with neutrophil count, including previously unknown rare loci regulating neutrophil count in a non-European population. BOLT-LMM was reliable when conducted in a non-European population, and additional covariates added to the model did not largely alter the results of the top loci or index SNPs. The two-sample bi-directional MR analysis between neutrophil count and severe malaria showed the greatest evidence for an effect between neutrophil count and severe anaemia, although the confidence intervals crossed the null.

Conclusion
Our GWAS of neutrophil count revealed unique loci present in individuals of African ancestry. We note that a small sample-size reduced our power to identify variants with low allele frequencies and/or low effect sizes in our GWAS. Our work highlights the need for conducting large-scale biobank studies in Africa and for further exploring the link between neutrophils and severe malaria.
Original languageEnglish
Article number26
Pages (from-to)26
JournalHuman Genomics
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.

Structured keywords

  • ICEP

Keywords

  • Humans
  • Genome-Wide Association Study/methods
  • Neutrophils
  • Black People/genetics
  • Malaria/epidemiology
  • Gene Frequency
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide/genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease

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