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Blood cells contain functionally important intracellular structures, such as granules, critical to immunity and thrombosis. Quantitative variation in these structures has not been subjected previously to large-scale genetic analysis. We perform genome-wide association studies of 63 flow-cytometry derived cellular phenotypes-including cell-type specific measures of granularity, nucleic acid content and reactivity-in 41,515 participants in the INTERVAL study. We identify 2172 distinct variant-trait associations, including associations near genes coding for proteins in organelles implicated in inflammatory and thrombotic diseases. By integrating with epigenetic data we show that many intracellular structures are likely to be determined in immature precursor cells. By integrating with proteomic data we identify the transcription factor FOG2 as an early regulator of platelet formation and α-granularity. Finally, we show that colocalisation of our associations with disease risk signals can suggest aetiological cell-types-variants in IL2RA and ITGA4 respectively mirror the known effects of daclizumab in multiple sclerosis and vedolizumab in inflammatory bowel disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature communications

Publication Date





British Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Strangeways Research Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Wort's Causeway, Cambridge, CB1 8RN, UK.