Crosstalk of genetic variants, allele-specific DNA methylation, and environmental factors for complex disease risk

Huishan Wang, Dan Lou, Zhibin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Over the past decades, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified thousands of phenotype-associated DNA sequence variants for potential explanations of inter-individual phenotypic differences and disease susceptibility. However, it remains a challenge for translating the associations into causative mechanisms for complex diseases, partially due to the involved variants in the noncoding regions and the inconvenience of functional studies in human population samples. So far, accumulating evidence has suggested a complex crosstalk among genetic variants, allele-specific binding of transcription factors (ABTF), and allele-specific DNA methylation patterns (ASM), as well as environmental factors for disease risk. This review aims to summarize the current studies regarding the interactions of the aforementioned factors with a focus on epigenetic insights. We present two scenarios of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in coding regions and non-coding regions for disease risk, via potentially impacting epigenetic patterns. While a SNP in a coding region may confer disease risk via altering protein functions, a SNP in non-coding region may cause diseases, via SNP-altering ABTF, ASM, and allele-specific gene expression (ASE). The allelic increases or decreases of gene expression are key for disease risk during development. Such ASE can be achieved via either a “SNP-introduced ABTF to ASM” or a “SNP-introduced ASM to ABTF.” Together with our additional in-depth review on insulator CTCF, we are convinced to propose a working model that the small effect of a SNP acts through altered ABTF and/or ASM, for ASE and eventual disease outcome (named as a “SNP intensifier” model). In summary, the significance of complex crosstalk among genetic factors, epigenetic patterns, and environmental factors requires further investigations for disease susceptibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number695
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2019


  • Allele-specific DNA methylation (ASM)
  • Allele-specific binding of transcription factors (ABTFs)
  • Allele-specific gene expression (ASE)
  • Genetic variants
  • Quantitative trait locus (QTL)
  • Regional “autosomal chromosome inactivation (ACI)”
  • SNP intensifier model
  • Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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