eSNPs are genetic variants associated with transcript expression levels. The characteristics of such variants highlight their importance and present a unique opportunity for studying gene regulation. eSNPs affect most genes and their cell type specificity can shed light on different processes that are activated in each cell. They can identify functional variants by connecting SNPs that are implicated in disease to a molecular mechanism. Examining eSNPs that are associated with distal genes can provide insights regarding the inference of regulatory networks but also presents challenges due to the high statistical burden of multiple testing. Such association studies allow: simultaneous investigation of many gene expression phenotypes without assuming any prior knowledge and identification of unknown regulators of gene expression while uncovering directionality.
This thesis will focus on such distal eSNPs to map regulatory interactions between different loci and expose the architecture of the regulatory network defined by such interactions. We develop novel computational approaches and apply them to genetics-genomics data in human. We go beyond pairwise interactions to define network motifs, including regulatory modules and bi-fan structures, showing them to be prevalent in real data and exposing distinct attributes of such arrangements. We project eSNP associations onto a protein-protein interaction network to expose topological properties of eSNPs and their targets and highlight different modes of distal regulation. Overall, our work offers insights concerning the topological structure of human regulatory networks and the role genetics plays in shaping them.
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