Considering the implication of gene expression in the susceptibility of chronic diseases and the familial clustering of chronic diseases, the study of familial resemblances in gene expression levels is then highly relevant. Few studies have considered the contribution of both genetic and common environmental effects to familial resemblances in whole blood gene expression levels. The objective is to quantify the contribution of genetic and common environmental effects in the familial resemblances of whole blood genome-wide gene expression levels. We also make comparisons with familial resemblances in blood leukocytes genome-wide DNA methylation levels in the same cohort in order to further investigate biological mechanisms.
Maximal heritability, genetic heritability, and common environmental effect were computed for all probes (20.6%, 15.6%, and 5.0% respectively) and for probes showing a significant familial effect (78.1%, 60.1%, and 18.0% respectively). Pairwise phenotypic correlations between gene expression and DNA methylation levels adjusted for blood cell heterogeneity were computed for probes showing significant familial effect. A total of 78 probe pairs among the 7,618,401 possible pairs passed Bonferroni correction (corrected P-value = 6.56 × 10- 9). Significant genetic correlations between gene expression and DNA methylation levels were found for 25 probe pairs (absolute genetic correlation of 0.97).
Familial resemblances in gene expression levels were mainly attributable to genetic factors, but common environmental effect also played a role especially in probes showing a significant familial effect. Probes and CpG sites with familial effect seem to be under a strong shared genetic control.