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Title: Phenome-wide association study (PheWAS) on the genetic determinants of serum urate level and disease outcomes in UK Biobank
Author: Li, Xue
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2019
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Introduction: Elevated serum uric acid (SUA) concentration, known as hyperuricaemia, is a common abnormity in individuals with metabolic disorders. There is increasing evidence supporting the link between high SUA level and the increased risk of a wide range of clinical disorders, including hypertension, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), chronic renal diseases and metabolic syndrome. Although there are considerable research efforts in understanding the pathogenic pathways of high SUA level and the related clinical consequences, their causal relationships have not been established except for gout. Like other complex traits, genetic determinants play a substantial role (an estimated heritability of 40-70%) in the regulation of SUA level. Investigating the role of genetic variants related to SUA in various diseases might provide evidence for the above hypothesis which links uric acid to clinical disorders. Method: Umbrella review was carried out first to provide a comprehensive overview on the range of health outcomes in relation to SUA level by incorporating evidence from systematic reviews and meta-analyses of observational studies, meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials (RCTs), and Mendelian randomisation (MR) studies. The umbrella review summarised the range of related health outcomes, the magnitude, direction and significance of identified associations and effects, and classified the evidence into four categories (class I [convincing], II [highly suggestive], III [suggestive], and IV [weak]) with assessment of multiple sources of biases. Then, a MR-PheWAS (Phenome-wide association study incorporated with Mendelian randomisation [MR]) was performed to investigate the associations between the 31 SUA genetic risk variants and a very wide range of disease outcomes by using the interim release data of UK Biobank (n=120,091). The SUA genetic risk loci were employed as instruments individually. The framework of phenome was defined by the PheCODE schema using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) diagnosis codes documented in the health records of UK Biobank. Phenome-wide association test was performed first to identify any association across the SUA genetic risk loci and the phenome; MR design and HEIDI (heterogeneity in dependent instruments) tests were then applied to distinguish the PheWAS associations that were due to causality, pleiotropy or genetic linkage. To validate the MR-PheWAS findings, an enlarged Phenome-wide Mendelian randomisation (PWMR) analysis were performed by using data from the full UK Biobank cohort (n=339,256). A weighted polygenic risk score (GRS), incorporating effect estimates of multiple genetic risk loci, was employed as a proxy of the SUA level. The framework of phenome was defined by both the PheCODE schema and an alternative Tree-structured phenotypic model (TreeWAS) for analysis. Significant associations from these analyses were taken forward for replication in different populations by analysing data from various GWAS consortia documented in the MR-base database. Sensitivity analyses examining the pleiotropic effects of urate genetic risk loci on a set of metabolic traits were performed to explore any causal effects and pleiotropic associations. Results: The umbrella review included 101 articles and comprised 144 meta-analyses of observational studies, 31 meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and 107 Mendelian randomisation studies. This remarkable assembly of evidence explored 136 unique health outcomes and reported convincing (class I) evidence for the causal role of SUA in gout and nephrolithiasis. Furthermore, highly suggestive (class II) evidence was reported for five health outcomes, in which high SUA level was associated with increased risk of heart failure, hypertension, impaired fasting glucose or diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and coronary heart disease mortality in the general population. The remaining 129 associations were classified as either suggestive or weak. The MR-PheWAS (using the interim release cohort) identified 25 disease groups/ outcomes to be associated with SUA genetic risk loci after multiple testing correction (p < 8.6 ×10-5). The MR IVW (inverse variance weighted) analysis implicated a causal role of SUA level in three disease groups: inflammatory polyarthropathies (OR=1.22, 95% CI: 1.11 to 1.34), hypertensive disease (OR=1.08, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.14) and disorders of metabolism (OR=1.07, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.14); and four disease outcomes: gout (OR=4.88, 95% CI: 3.91 to 6.09), essential hypertension (OR=1.08, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.14), myocardial infarction (OR=1.16, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.30) and coeliac disease (OR=1.41, 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.89). After balancing pleiotropic effects in MR Egger analysis, only gout and its encompassing disease group of inflammatory polyarthropathies were considered to be causally associated with SUA level. The analysis also highlighted a locus (ATXN2/S2HB3) that may influence SUA level and multiple cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases via pleiotropy.The PWMR analysis, using data from the full UK Biobank cohort (n=339,256), examining the association with 1,431 disease outcomes, identified 13 phecodes that were associated with the weighted GRS of SUA level with the p value passing the significance threshold of PheWAS (p < 3.4×10-4). These phecodes represent 4 disease groups: inflammatory polyarthropathies (OR=1.28; 95% CI: 1.21 to 1.35; p=4.97×10-19), hypertensive disease (OR=1.08; 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.11; p=6.02×10-7), circulatory disease (OR=1.05; 95% CI: 1.02 to 1.07; p=3.29×10-4) and metabolic disorders (OR=1.07; 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.11; p= 3.33×10-4), and 9 disease outcomes: gout (OR=5.37; 95% CI: 4.67 to 6.18; p= 4.27×10-123), gouty arthropathy (OR=5.11; 95% CI: 2.45 to 10.66; p=1.39×10-5), pyogenic arthritis (OR=2.10; 95% CI: 1.41 to 3.14; p=2.87×10-4), essential hypertension (OR=1.08; 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.11; p=6.62×10-7), coronary atherosclerosis (OR=1.10; 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.15; p=1.17×10-5), ischaemic heart disease (OR=1.10, 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.15; p=1.73×10-5), chronic ischaemic heart disease (OR=1.10, 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.15; p=1.52×10-5), myocardial infarction (OR=1.15, 95% CI=1.07 to 1.23, p=5.23×10-5), and hypercholesterolaemia (OR=1.08, 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.13, p=3.34×10-4). Findings from the TreeWAS analysis were generally consistent with that of PheWAS, with a number of more sub-phenotypes being identified. Results from IVW MR suggested that genetically determined high serum urate level was associated with increased risk of gout (OR=4.53, 95%CI: 3.64-5.64, p=9.66×10-42), CHD (OR=1.10, 95%CI: 1.02 to 1.19, p=0.009), myocardial infarction (OR=1.11, 95%CI:1.02 to 1.20, p=0.011) and decreased level of HDL-c (OR=0.93, 95%CI:0.88 to 0.98, p=0.004), but had no effect on RA (OR=0.92, 95%CI: 0.84 to 1.01, p=0.085) and ischaemic stroke (OR=1.03, 95%CI: 0.93 to 1.14, P= 0.582). Egger MR indicated pleiotropic effects on the causal estimates of DBP (P_pleiotropy=0.014), SBP (P_pleiotropy=0.003), CHD (P_pleiotropy=0.008), myocardial infarction (P_pleiotropy=0.008) and HDL-c (P_pleiotropy=0.016). When balancing out the potential pleiotropic effects in Egger MR, a causal effect can only be verified for gout (OR=4.17, 95%CI: 3.03 to 5.74, P_effect=1.27×〖10〗^(-9); P_pleiotropy=0.485). Sensitivity analyses on the GRSs of different groups of pleiotropic loci support an inference that pleiotropic effects of genetic variants on urate and metabolic traits contribute to the observed associations with cardiovascular/metabolic diseases. Conclusions: This thesis presents a comprehensive investigation on the health outcomes in relation to SUA level. The causal relationship between high SUA level and gout is robustly verified in this thesis with consistent evidence from the umbrella review, the MR-PheWAS and the PWMR. The association of high SUA level with hypertension and heart diseases is supported by both the evidence from umbrella review and analyses conducted in this thesis, however, given the caveat of pleiotropy in the causal inference, a conclusion of causality on hypertension and heart diseases is not robust enough based on the current findings. Furthermore, the epidemiological evidence from the umbrella review indicated that high SUA level was associated with several components of metabolic disorders, and the analyses of the UK Biobank data identified a significant association with metabolic disorders and a sub-phenotype (hypercholesterolaemia). The causal inference in this study is limited by the common difficulty of pleiotropy caused by the use of multiple genetic instruments. Although we have performed sensitivity analysis by excluding the key pleiotropic locus, unmeasured pleiotropy and biases are still possible. In particular, unbalanced pleiotropy is recognised as an issue for the causal connections on the association between SUA level and hypertension. Other potential causal relevance of SUA level with respiratory diseases and ocular diseases is also worthy of further investigation. Overall, when taken together the findings from umbrella review, MR-PheWAS, PheWAS/TreeWAS analysis, MR replication and sensitivity analysis conducted in this thesis, I conclude that there are robust associations between urate and several disease groups, including gout, hypertensive diseases, heart diseases and metabolic disorders, but the causal role of urate only exists in gout. This study indicates that the observed associations between urate and cardiovascular/metabolic diseases are probably derived from the pleiotropic effects of genetic variants on urate and metabolic traits. Further investigation of therapies targeting the shared biological pathways between urate and metabolic traits may be beneficial for the treatment of gout and the primary prevention of cardiovascular/metabolic diseases.
Supervisor: Theodoratou, Evropi ; Campbell, Harry Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: elevated serum uric acid ; hyperuricaemia ; systematic reviews ; health outcomes ; gout ; urate