Genome-Wide Gene-Set Analysis Identifies Molecular Mechanisms Associated with ALS

Christina Vasilopoulou, Sarah L. McDaid-McCloskey, Gavin McCluskey, Stephanie Duguez, Andrew P. Morris, William Duddy

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal late-onset motor neuron disease characterized by the loss of the upper and lower motor neurons. Our understanding of the molecular basis of ALS pathology remains elusive, complicating the development of efficient treatment. Gene-set analyses of genome-wide data have offered insight into the biological processes and pathways of complex diseases and can suggest new hypotheses regarding causal mechanisms. Our aim in this study was to identify and explore biological pathways and other gene sets having genomic association to ALS. Two cohorts of genomic data from the dbGaP repository were combined: (a) the largest available ALS individual-level genotype dataset (N = 12,319), and (b) a similarly sized control cohort (N = 13,210). Following comprehensive quality control pipelines, imputation and meta-analysis, we assembled a large European descent ALS-control cohort of 9244 ALS cases and 12,795 healthy controls represented by genetic variants of 19,242 genes. Multi-marker analysis of genomic annotation (MAGMA) gene-set analysis was applied to an extensive collection of 31,454 gene sets from the molecular signatures database (MSigDB). Statistically significant associations were observed for gene sets related to immune response, apoptosis, lipid metabolism, neuron differentiation, muscle cell function, synaptic plasticity and development. We also report novel interactions between gene sets, suggestive of mechanistic overlaps. A manual meta-categorization and enrichment mapping approach is used to explore the overlap of gene membership between significant gene sets, revealing a number of shared mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4021
Number of pages1
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number4
Early online date16 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 16 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was financed by the European Union Regional Development Fund (ERDF) EU Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for N. Ireland, Northern Ireland Public Health Agency (HSC R&D) & Ulster University. C.V. was the recipient of a DfE international scholarship from Ulster University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Spectroscopy
  • Molecular Biology
  • General Medicine
  • Catalysis
  • GWAS
  • functional genomics
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • gene-set analysis
  • ALS pathology


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