Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified more than a hundred single nucleotide variants (SNVs) associated with the risk of gastroesophageal cancer (GEC). The majority of the identified SNVs map to noncoding regions of the genome. Uncovering the causal SNVs and the genes they modulate could help improve GEC prevention and treatment. Here, we used HiChIP against histone 3 lysine 27 acetylation (H3K27ac) to simultaneously annotate active promoters and enhancers, identify the interactions between them, and detect nucleosome free regions (NFRs) harboring potential causal SNVs in a single assay. Application of H3K27Ac HiChIP in GEC relevant models identified 61 potential functional SNVs that reside in NFRs and interact with 49 genes at 17 loci. The approach led to a 67% reduction in the number of SNVs in linkage disequilibrium at these 17 loci, and at seven loci a single putative causal SNV was identified. One SNV, rs147518036, located within the promoter of the UDP-glucuronate decarboxylase 1 (UXS1) gene appeared to underlie the GEC risk association captured by the rs75460256 index SNV. The rs147518036 SNV creates a GABPA DNA recognition motif, resulting in increased promoter activity, and CRISPR-mediated inhibition of the UXS1 promoter reduced viability of GEC cells. These findings provide a framework that simplifies the identification of potentially functional regulatory SNVs and target genes underlying risk-associated loci. In addition, the study implicates increased expression of the enzyme UXS1 and activation of its metabolic pathway as a predisposition to gastric cancer, which highlights potential therapeutic avenues to treat this disease.

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