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ABSTRACT Genome wide association studies (GWASs) for complex traits have implicated thousands of genetic loci. Most GWAS-nominated variants lie in noncoding regions, complicating the systematic translation of these findings into functional understanding. Here, we leverage convolutional neural networks to assist in this challenge. Our computational framework, peaBrain, models the transcriptional machinery of a tissue as a two-stage process: first, predicting the mean tissue specific abundance of all genes and second, incorporating the transcriptomic consequences of genotype variation to predict individual abundance on a subject-by-subject basis. We demonstrate that peaBrain accounts for the majority (>50%) of variance observed in mean transcript abundance across most tissues and outperforms regularized linear models in predicting the consequences of individual genotype variation. We highlight the validity of the peaBrain model by calculating non-coding impact scores that correlate with nucleotide evolutionary constraint that are also predictive of disease-associated variation and allele-specific transcription factor binding. We further show how these tissue-specific peaBrain scores can be leveraged to pinpoint functional tissues underlying complex traits, outperforming methods that depend on colocalization of eQTL and GWAS signals. We subsequently derive continuous dense embeddings of genes for downstream applications, and identify putatively functional eQTLs that are missed by high-throughput experimental approaches.

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