Impact of regulatory variation from RNA to protein

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Science  06 Feb 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6222, pp. 664-667
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260793

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How genetics affect phenotypic variation

How an individual looks depends on their genes, genetic variation, and interactions with the environment. However, the path from genotype to phenotype remains murky. Battle et al. examine how an individual's genetic variation affects expression of RNA, ribosome occupancy, and protein levels. They find that RNA expression and ribosome occupancy are generally correlated. However, in contrast, protein levels appear not to depend on RNA levels or ribosome occupancy. Protein levels are thus regulated by posttranscriptional mechanisms.

Science, this issue p. 664


The phenotypic consequences of expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) are presumably due to their effects on protein expression levels. Yet the impact of genetic variation, including eQTLs, on protein levels remains poorly understood. To address this, we mapped genetic variants that are associated with eQTLs, ribosome occupancy (rQTLs), or protein abundance (pQTLs). We found that most QTLs are associated with transcript expression levels, with consequent effects on ribosome and protein levels. However, eQTLs tend to have significantly reduced effect sizes on protein levels, which suggests that their potential impact on downstream phenotypes is often attenuated or buffered. Additionally, we identified a class of cis QTLs that affect protein abundance with little or no effect on messenger RNA or ribosome levels, which suggests that they may arise from differences in posttranslational regulation.

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