Nature. 2024 Feb 7. doi: 10.1038/s41586-024-07022-x. Online ahead of print.
Linking variants from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to underlying mechanisms of disease remains a challenge1-3. For some diseases, a successful strategy has been to look for cases in which multiple GWAS loci contain genes that act in the same biological pathway1-6. However, our knowledge of which genes act in which pathways is incomplete, particularly for cell-type-specific pathways or understudied genes. Here we introduce a method to connect GWAS variants to functions. This method links variants to genes using epigenomics data, links genes to pathways de novo using Perturb-seq and integrates these data to identify convergence of GWAS loci onto pathways. We apply this approach to study the role of endothelial cells in genetic risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), and discover 43 CAD GWAS signals that converge on the cerebral cavernous malformation (CCM) signalling pathway. Two regulators of this pathway, CCM2 and TLNRD1, are each linked to a CAD risk variant, regulate other CAD risk genes and affect atheroprotective processes in endothelial cells. These results suggest a model whereby CAD risk is driven in part by the convergence of causal genes onto a particular transcriptional pathway in endothelial cells. They highlight shared genes between common and rare vascular diseases (CAD and CCM), and identify TLNRD1 as a new, previously uncharacterized member of the CCM signalling pathway. This approach will be widely useful for linking variants to functions for other common polygenic diseases.