Understanding the genetic variation underlying transcript splicing is essential for fully dissecting the molecular mechanisms of common diseases. The available evidence from splicing quantitative trait locus (sQTL) studies using pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) tissues have been limited to small sample sizes. Here we present a genome-wide sQTL analysis to identify SNP that control mRNA splicing in 176 PDAC samples from TCGA. From this analysis, 16,175 sQTLs were found to be significantly enriched in RNA-binding protein (RBP) binding sites and chromatin regulatory elements and overlapped with known loci from PDAC genome-wide association studies (GWAS). sQTLs and expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) showed mostly nonoverlapping patterns, suggesting sQTLs provide additional insights into the etiology of disease. Target genes affected by sQTLs were closely related to cancer signaling pathways, high mutational burden, immune infiltration, and pharmaceutical targets, which will be helpful for clinical applications. Integration of a large-scale population consisting of 2,782 patients with PDAC and 7,983 healthy controls identified an sQTL variant rs1785932-T allele that promotes alternative splicing of ELP2 exon 6 and leads to a lower level of the ELP2 full-length isoform (ELP2_V1) and a higher level of a truncated ELP2 isoform (ELP2_V2), resulting in decreased risk of PDAC [OR = 0.83; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.77–0.89; P = 1.16 × 10−6]. The ELP2_V2 isoform functioned as a potential tumor suppressor gene, inhibiting PDAC cell proliferation by exhibiting stronger binding affinity to JAK1/STAT3 than ELP2_V1 and subsequently blocking the pathologic activation of the phosphorylated STAT3 (pSTAT3) pathway. Collectively, these findings provide an informative sQTL resource and insights into the regulatory mechanisms linking splicing variants to PDAC risk.

Significance:

In pancreatic cancer, splicing quantitative trait loci analysis identifies a rs1785932 variant that contributes to decreased risk of disease by influencing ELP2 mRNA splicing and blocking the STAT3 oncogenic pathway.

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