medRxiv. 2023 Sep 18:2023.09.14.23295564. doi: 10.1101/2023.09.14.23295564. Preprint.
Over three percent of people carry a dominant pathogenic mutation, yet only a fraction of carriers develop disease (incomplete penetrance), and phenotypes from mutations in the same gene range from mild to severe (variable expressivity). Here, we investigate underlying mechanisms for this heterogeneity: variable variant effect sizes, carrier polygenic backgrounds, and modulation of carrier effect by genetic background (epistasis). We leveraged exomes and clinical phenotypes from the UK Biobank and the Mt. Sinai Bio Me Biobank to identify carriers of pathogenic variants affecting cardiometabolic traits. We employed recently developed methods to study these cohorts, observing strong statistical support and clinical translational potential for all three mechanisms of variable penetrance and expressivity. For example, scores from our recent model of variant pathogenicity were tightly correlated with phenotype amongst clinical variant carriers, they predicted effects of variants of unknown significance, and they distinguished gain- from loss-of-function variants. We also found that polygenic scores predicted phenotypes amongst pathogenic carriers and that epistatic effects can exceed main carrier effects by an order of magnitude.