Background:

Currently known associations between common genetic variants and colorectal cancer explain less than half of its heritability of 25%. As alcohol consumption has a J-shape association with colorectal cancer risk, nondrinking and heavy drinking are both risk factors for colorectal cancer.

Methods:

Individual-level data was pooled from the Colon Cancer Family Registry, Colorectal Transdisciplinary Study, and Genetics and Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer Consortium to compare nondrinkers (≤1 g/day) and heavy drinkers (>28 g/day) with light-to-moderate drinkers (1–28 g/day) in GxE analyses. To improve power, we implemented joint 2df and 3df tests and a novel two-step method that modifies the weighted hypothesis testing framework. We prioritized putative causal variants by predicting allelic effects using support vector machine models.

Results:

For nondrinking as compared with light-to-moderate drinking, the hybrid two-step approach identified 13 significant SNPs with pairwise r2 > 0.9 in the 10q24.2/COX15 region. When stratified by alcohol intake, the A allele of lead SNP rs2300985 has a dose–response increase in risk of colorectal cancer as compared with the G allele in light-to-moderate drinkers [OR for GA genotype = 1.11; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.06–1.17; OR for AA genotype = 1.22; 95% CI, 1.14–1.31], but not in nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. Among the correlated candidate SNPs in the 10q24.2/COX15 region, rs1318920 was predicted to disrupt an HNF4 transcription factor binding motif.

Conclusions:

Our study suggests that the association with colorectal cancer in 10q24.2/COX15 observed in genome-wide association study is strongest in nondrinkers. We also identified rs1318920 as the putative causal regulatory variant for the region.

Impact:

The study identifies multifaceted evidence of a possible functional effect for rs1318920.

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