Genome-wide associations of human gut microbiome variation and implications for causal inference analyses

David A Hughes, Rodrigo Bacigalupe, Jun Wang, Malte Rühlemann, Raul Tito, Gwen Falony, Marie Joossens, Sara Vieira-Silva, Liesbet Henckaerts, Leen Rymenans, Chloë Verspecht, Susan M Ring, Andre Franke, Kaitlin H Wade, Nicholas John Timpson*, Jeroen Raes*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

121 Citations (Scopus)
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Recent population-based and clinical studies have identified a range of factors associated with human gut microbiome variation. Murine quantitative trait loci, human twin studies and microbiome genome-wide association studies (mGWAS) have provided evidence for genetic contributions to microbiome composition. Despite this, there is still poor overlap in genetic association across human studies. Using appropriate taxon-specific models along with support from independent cohorts, we show association between human host genotype and gut microbiome variation. We also suggest that interpretation of applied analyses using genetic associations is complicated by the likely overlap between genetic contributions and heritable components of host environment. Using fecal derived 16S rRNA gene sequences and host genotype data from the Flemish Gut Flora Project (FGFP, n=2223) and two German cohorts (FoCus, n=950, PopGen n=717), we identify genetic associations involving multiple microbial traits (MTs). Heritability estimates ranged from 0-0.47 and lead associations (p-value < 1.57x10−10) were between Ruminococcus and rs150018970 near RAPGEF1 on chromosome 9, and between Coprococcus and rs561177583 within LINC01787 on chromosome 1. Exploratory analysis was undertaken using 11 other associations with strong evidence for association (p-value < 2.5x10−08) and a previously reported signal of association between rs4988235 (MCM6/LCT) and Bifidobacterium. Across these 14 SNPs there was evidence of signal overlap with other GWAS including those for age at menarche and cardiometabolic traits. Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis was able to estimate associations between MTs and disease (including Bifidobacterium and body composition), however in the absence of clear microbiome driven effects, caution is needed in interpretation. Overall, this work marks a growing catalog of genetic associations which will provide insight into the contribution of host genotype to gut microbiome. Despite this, the uncertain origin of association signals will likely complicate future work looking to dissect function or use associations for causal inference analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1079–1087
Number of pages9
JournalNature Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2020

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