Background: Colorectal cancer has a strong epigenetic component that is accompanied by frequent DNA methylation (DNAm) alterations in addition to heritable genetic risk. It is of interest to understand the interrelationship of germline genetics, DNAm, and colorectal cancer risk. Methods: We performed a genome-wide methylation quantitative trait locus (meQTL) analysis in 1,355 people, assessing the pairwise associations between genetic variants and lymphocytes methylation data. In addition, we used penalized regression with cis-genetic variants ± 1 Mb of methylation to identify genome-wide heritable DNAm. We evaluated the association of genetically predicted methylation with colorectal cancer risk based on genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of over 125,000 cases and controls using the multivariate sMiST as well as univariately via examination of marginal association with colorectal cancer risk. Results: Of the 142 known colorectal cancer GWAS loci, 47 were identified as meQTLs. We identified four novel colorectal cancer–associated loci (NID2, ATXN10, KLHDC10, and CEP41) that reside over 1 Mb outside of known colorectal cancer loci and 10 secondary signals within 1 Mb of known loci. Conclusions: Leveraging information of DNAm regulation into genetic association of colorectal cancer risk reveals novel pathways in colorectal cancer tumorigenesis. Our summary statistics-based framework sMiST provides a powerful approach by combining information from the effect through methylation and residual direct effects of the meQTLs on disease risk. Further validation and functional follow-up of these novel pathways are needed. Impact: Using genotype, DNAm, and GWAS, we identified four new colorectal cancer risk loci. We studied the landscape of genetic regulation of DNAm via single-SNP and multi-SNP meQTL analyses.
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