Genetic factors play an important role in the etiology of both sporadic and familial breast cancer. Since 2007, common genetic variants in ~200 loci have been identified in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in relation to breast cancer risk. However, it is often difficult to translate GWAS findings to disease prevention and treatment since causal genes in the large majority of GWAS-identified loci are unknown. Furthermore, a large fraction of breast cancer heritability remains unexplained. Recent studies suggest that nearly 80% of disease heritability can be explained by genetic variants regulating gene expression. Herein, we propose three well-powered transcriptome-wide association studies (TWAS) to systematically investigate the association of breast cancer risk with gene expression across the transcriptome of African, Asian and European descendants.
In Aim 1, we will perform RNA sequencing and high-density genotyping assays using normal breast tissue samples and build race-specific gene expression prediction models using data from 1000 women of African, Asian and European descent. These models will be applied to the GWAS data generated from approximately 320,000 breast cancer patients and controls to impute gene expression for association analyses of predicted gene expression with risk of breast cancer overall and by estrogen receptor and HER2 status.
In Aim 2, we will select the top 50 genes identified in Aim 1 for in vitro functional assays to assess their influence on major cell functions related to cancer biology.
In Aim 3, we will evaluate whether TWAS-identified genes may express differently in normal breast tissues and breast cancer tissues collected from African, Asian, and European descendants to assess whether these genes may contribute to racial differences in breast cancer risk by molecular subtypes. With strong methodology and a large sample size, we believe that this proposed study should be able to identify and characterize a large number of novel genes related to breast cancer risk. Uncovering breast cancer susceptibility genes will greatly improve the understanding of the genetic and biological basis for breast cancer and accelerate the translation of genetic findings to disease prevention and patient care.

Public Health Relevance

Genetic factors play a major role in the etiology of breast cancer. However, little is known about the target genes for breast cancer genetic risk regions identified in recent years, and further a large fraction of heritability for this common malignancy remains unexplained. In this application, we propose a novel study to systematically search for genes associated with breast cancer risk and further evaluate whether these genes may influence racial differences in the risk of this cancer.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Cancer, Heart, and Sleep Epidemiology A Study Section (CHSA)
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Mechanic, Leah E
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center
United States
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