Plasma cortisol-linked gene networks in hepatic and adipose tissues implicate corticosteroid-binding globulin in modulating tissue glucocorticoid action and cardiovascular risk

Sean Bankier, Lingfei Wang, Andrew Crawford, Ruth A. Morgan, Arno Ruusalepp, Ruth Andrew, Johan L.M. Björkegren, Brian R. Walker, Tom Michoel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Genome-wide association meta-analysis (GWAMA) by the Cortisol Network (CORNET) consortium identified genetic variants spanning the SERPINA6/SERPINA1 locus on chromosome 14 associated with morning plasma cortisol, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and SERPINA6 mRNA expression encoding corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) in the liver. These and other findings indicate that higher plasma cortisol levels are causally associated with CVD; however, the mechanisms by which variations in CBG lead to CVD are undetermined. Using genomic and transcriptomic data from The Stockholm Tartu Atherosclerosis Reverse Networks Engineering Task (STARNET) study, we identified plasma cortisol-linked single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are trans-associated with genes from seven different vascular and metabolic tissues, finding the highest representation of trans-genes in the liver, subcutaneous fat, and visceral abdominal fat, [false discovery rate (FDR) = 15%]. We identified a subset of cortisol-associated trans-genes that are putatively regulated by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), the primary transcription factor activated by cortisol. Using causal inference, we identified GR-regulated trans-genes that are responsible for the regulation of tissue-specific gene networks. Cis-expression Quantitative Trait Loci (eQTLs) were used as genetic instruments for identification of pairwise causal relationships from which gene networks could be reconstructed. Gene networks were identified in the liver, subcutaneous fat, and visceral abdominal fat, including a high confidence gene network specific to subcutaneous adipose (FDR = 10%) under the regulation of the interferon regulatory transcription factor, IRF2. These data identify a plausible pathway through which variation in the liver CBG production perturbs cortisol-regulated gene networks in peripheral tissues and thereby promote CVD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1186252
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
Volume14
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023

Keywords

  • causal inference
  • corticosteroid-binding globulin
  • cortisol
  • gene networks
  • systems genetics

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