Deep learning models predict regulatory variants in pancreatic islets and refine type 2 diabetes association signals
Wesolowska-Andersen A., Yu GZ., Nylander V., Abaitua F., Thurner M., Torres J., Mahajan A., Gloyn A., McCarthy M.
Genome-wide association analyses have uncovered multiple genomic regions associated with T2D, but identification of the causal variants at these remains a challenge. There is growing interest in the potential of deep learning models - which predict epigenome features from DNA sequence - to support inference concerning the regulatory effects of disease-associated variants. Here, we evaluate the advantages of training convolutional neural network (CNN) models on a broad set of epigenomic features collected in a single disease-relevant tissue – pancreatic islets in the case of type 2 diabetes (T2D) - as opposed to models trained on multiple human tissues. We report convergence of CNN-based metrics of regulatory function with conventional approaches to variant prioritization – genetic fine-mapping and regulatory annotation enrichment. We demonstrate that CNN-based analyses can refine association signals at T2D-associated loci and provide experimental validation for one such signal. We anticipate that these approaches will become routine in downstream analyses of GWAS.