Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have uncovered many genetic risk loci for psoriasis, yet many remain uncharacterised in terms of the causal gene and their biological mechanism in disease. This is largely a result of the findings that over 90% of GWAS variants map outside of protein-coding DNA, and instead are enriched in cell type and stimulation-specific gene regulatory regions.
Here, we use a disease-focused Capture Hi-C (CHi-C) experiment to link psoriasis-associated variants with their target genes in psoriasis-relevant cell lines (HaCaT keratinocytes and My-La CD8+ T cells). We confirm previously assigned genes, suggest novel candidates and provide evidence for complexity at psoriasis GWAS loci. For one locus, uniquely, we combine further epigenomic evidence to demonstrate how a psoriasis-associated region forms a functional interaction with the distant (>500 kb) KLF4 gene. This interaction occurs between the gene and active enhancers in HaCaT cells, but not in My-La cells. We go on to investigate this long-distance interaction further with Cas9 fusion protein-mediated chromatin modification (CRISPR activation) coupled with RNA-seq, demonstrating how activation of the psoriasis associated enhancer upregulates KLF4 and its downstream targets, relevant to skin cells and apoptosis.
This approach utilises multiple functional genomic techniques to follow up GWAS associated variants implicating relevant cell types and causal genes in each locus; these are vital next steps for the translation of genetic findings into clinical benefit.