Challenges and progress in interpretation of non-coding genetic variants associated with human disease

Yizhou Zhu, Cagdas Tazearslan, Yousin Suh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Genome-wide association studies have shown that the far majority of disease-associated variants reside in the non-coding regions of the genome, suggesting that gene regulatory changes contribute to disease risk. To identify truly causal non-coding variants and their affected target genes remains challenging but is a critical step to translate the genetic associations to molecular mechanisms and ultimately clinical applications. Here we review genomic/epigenomic resources and in silico tools that can be used to identify causal non-coding variants and experimental strategies to validate their functionalities. Impact statement: Most signals from genome-wide association studies (GWASs) map to the non-coding genome, and functional interpretation of these associations remained challenging. We reviewed recent progress in methodologies of studying the non-coding genome and argued that no single approach allows one to effectively identify the causal regulatory variants from GWAS results. By illustrating the advantages and limitations of each method, our review potentially provided a guideline for taking a combinatorial approach to accurately predict, prioritize, and eventually experimentally validate the causal variants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1325-1334
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Causal variants
  • enhancers
  • functional genomics
  • genome-wide association studies
  • non-coding variants
  • variant annotation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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