The full potential of genome wide association studies (GWAS) will only be realized once we fully understand the biological consequences of genetic risk associations. The goal of the proposed study is to identify gene targets of validated colorectal cancer (CRC) GWAS risk enhancers using a series of complementary approaches and to begin to establish the biological role of risk enhancers in normal crypt development and CRC etiology using a novel in vivo murine-based method. This study builds upon our previous successes in identifying CRC risk enhancers within GWAS loci on chromosomes 1q41, 3p14.1, 8q24.21, 11q23.1, 15q13.3 (3 risk enhancers), 18q21.1, 19q13.11, 19q21 and 20p12.3.
In Aim 1 we will identify novel target genes of these CRC risk enhancers by conducting genome wide eQTL analyses using RNA-Seq data from >1000 normal colon epithelial biopsies and by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated knock out of the risk enhancers in CRC cell lines followed by RNA-Seq eQTL analysis.
In Aim 2 we will identify and validate risk enhancer-target gene(s) interactions using chromosome conformation capture methods. We will identify and validate the physical interaction between risk enhancers and target genes using the circularized chromosome conformation capture (4C) method using HCT116 and SW480 CRC cell lines. Specific enhancer-target gene interactions will be further validated using chromatin conformation capture (3C) and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).
In Aim 3 we will test the biological effect of CRC risk enhancers using a novel mouse model system. Mice will be developed that harbor selected human BACs corresponding to 3 risk enhancer GWAS regions (including the multiple enhancer region on 15q13.3) with known local target genes (8q24.21/cMYC/ CCAT2, 11q23.1/C11orf53/ C11orf92/ C11orf93 and 15q13.3/GREM1/ FMN1/ ax747968). BACs will be inserted into mouse ES cells and CRISPR/Cas9 technology will be used to introduce either risk or non-risk variants within risk enhancers. The modified ES cells will be combined with wild type tetraploid embryos to generate chimeric mice in which the entire embryo-proper was derived from the modified ES cells. The effects of the risk and non-risk SNPs on target gene transcript levels using transcriptome profiling (RNA-Seq) will be determined in these mice in intestinal crypts and non-colon cells (e.g. liver, spleen). Histological studies will be conducted to examine the effects of risk enhancer SNPs on normal crypt and intestine polyp/tumor development. These experiments will be carried out in transgenic mice that are wild-type for Apc, as well as mice that carry a heterozygous-null mutation in the Apc gene. The proposed research will provide insight into the biological role of risk enhancers in the intestinal crypt and CRC etiology and the discovery of risk enhancer target genes will provide tools for future early surveillance and prevention studies of CRC.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of our proposal is to determine the functional consequences of colorectal cancer (CRC) risk enhancers identified through genome wide association studies (GWAS). Our work is motivated by our success in identifying CRC risk enhancers for a growing number of CRC GWAS regions. An improved understanding of the biological relevance of risk variants identified through GWAS should substantially aid in our understanding of early carcinogenic events, which can be translated to improvements in current guidelines for surveillance, intervention and potentially treatment of CRC.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Nelson, Stefanie A
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University of Virginia
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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