Halit Ongen, Emmanouil T Dermitzakis
With the advent of RNA-sequencing technology we now have the power to detect different types of alternative splicing and how DNA variation affects splicing. However, given the short read lengths used in most population based RNA-sequencing experiments, quantifying transcripts accurately remains a challenge. Here we present a novel method, Altrans, for discovery of alternative splicing quantitative trait loci (asQTLs). To assess the performance of Altrans we compared it to Cufflinks, a well-established transcript quantification method. Simulations show that in the presence of transcripts absent from the annotation, Altrans performs better in quantifications than Cufflinks. We have applied Altrans and Cufflinks to the Geuvadis dataset, which comprises samples from European and African populations, and discovered (FDR = 1%) 1806 and 243 asQTLs with Altrans, and 1596 and 288 asQTLs with Cufflinks for Europeans and Africans, respectively. Although Cufflinks results replicated better across the two populations, this likely due to the increased sensitivity of Altrans in detecting harder to detect associations. We show that, by discovering a set of asQTLs in a smaller subset of European samples and replicating these in the remaining larger subset of Europeans, both methods achieve similar replication levels (94% and 98% replication in Altrans and Cufflinks, respectively). We find that method specific asQTLs are largely due to different types of alternative splicing events detected by each method. We overlapped the asQTLs with biochemically active regions of the genome and observed significant enrichments for many functional marks and variants in splicing regions, highlighting the biological relevance of the asQTLs identified. All together, we present a novel approach for discovering asQTLs that is a more direct assessment of splicing compared to other methods and is complementary to other transcript quantification methods.