Schizophrenia risk alleles often affect the expression of many genes and each gene may have a different effect on the risk: A mediation analysis

Xi Peng, Joel S. Bader, Dimitrios Avramopoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variants identified by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are often expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs), suggesting they are proxies or are themselves regulatory. Across many data sets, analyses show that variants often affect multiple genes. Lacking data on many tissue types, developmental time points, and homogeneous cell types, the extent of this one-to-many relationship is underestimated. This raises questions on whether a disease eQTL target gene explains the genetic association or is a bystander and puts into question the direction of expression effect of on the risk, since the many variants-regulated genes may have opposing effects, imperfectly balancing each other. We used two brain gene expression data sets (CommonMind and BrainSeq) for mediation analysis of schizophrenia-associated variants. We confirm that eQTL target genes often mediate risk but the direction in which expression affects risk is often different from that in which the risk allele changes expression. Of 38 mediator genes significant in both data sets 33 showed consistent mediation direction (Chi2 test p = 6 × 10−6). One might expect that the expression would correlate with the risk allele in the same direction it correlates with the disease. For 15 of these 33 (45%), however, the expression change associated with the risk allele was protective, suggesting the likely presence of other target genes with overriding effects. Our results identify specific risk mediating genes and suggest caution in interpreting the biological consequences of targeted modifications of gene expression, as not all eQTL targets may be relevant to disease while those that are, might have different from expected directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-258
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics, Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • expression quantitative trait locus
  • mediation
  • schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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