Congenital hypothyroidism due to thyroid dysgenesis (TD), presented as thyroid aplasia, hypoplasia or ectopia, is one of the most prevalent rare diseases with an isolated organ malformation. The pathogenesis of TD is largely unknown, although a genetic predisposition has been suggested. We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) with 142 Japanese TD cases and 8380 controls and found a significant locus at 2q33.3 (top single nucleotide polymorphism, rs9789446: P = 4.4 × 10-12), which was replicated in a German patient cohort (P = 0.0056). A subgroup analysis showed that rs9789446 confers a risk for thyroid aplasia (per allele odds ratio = 3.17) and ectopia (3.12) but not for hypoplasia. Comprehensive epigenomic characterization of the 72-kb disease-associated region revealed that it was enriched for active enhancer signatures in human thyroid. Analysis of chromosome conformation capture data showed long-range chromatin interactions of this region with promoters of two genes, FZD5 and CCNYL1, mediating Wnt signaling. Moreover, rs9789446 was found to be a thyroid-specific quantitative trait locus, adding further evidence for a cis-regulatory function of this region in thyroid tissue. Specifically, because the risk rs9789446 allele is associated with increased thyroidal expression of FDZ5 and CCNYL1 and given the recent demonstration of perturbed early thyroid development following overactivation of Wnt signaling in zebrafish embryos, an enhanced Wnt signaling in risk allele carriers provides a biologically plausible TD mechanism. In conclusion, our work found the first risk locus for TD, exemplifying that in rare diseases with relatively low biological complexity, GWAS may provide mechanistic insights even with a small sample size.
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