Open Access Research article

Investigating the complex genetic architecture of ankle-brachial index, a measure of peripheral arterial disease, in non-Hispanic whites

Sharon LR Kardia1*, M Todd Greene1, Eric Boerwinkle2, Stephen T Turner3 and Iftikhar J Kullo4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

2 Human Genetics Center and Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA

3 Division of Nephrology and Hypertension, and the Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA

4 Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA

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BMC Medical Genomics 2008, 1:16  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-1-16

Published: 15 May 2008



Atherosclerotic peripheral arterial disease (PAD) affects 8–10 million people in the United States and is associated with a marked impairment in quality of life and an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Noninvasive assessment of PAD is performed by measuring the ankle-brachial index (ABI). Complex traits, such as ABI, are influenced by a large array of genetic and environmental factors and their interactions. We attempted to characterize the genetic architecture of ABI by examining the main and interactive effects of individual single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and conventional risk factors.


We applied linear regression analysis to investigate the association of 435 SNPs in 112 positional and biological candidate genes with ABI and related physiological and biochemical traits in 1046 non-Hispanic white, hypertensive participants from the Genetic Epidemiology Network of Arteriopathy (GENOA) study. The main effects of each SNP, as well as SNP-covariate and SNP-SNP interactions, were assessed to investigate how they contribute to the inter-individual variation in ABI. Multivariable linear regression models were then used to assess the joint contributions of the top SNP associations and interactions to ABI after adjustment for covariates. We reduced the chance of false positives by 1) correcting for multiple testing using the false discovery rate, 2) internal replication, and 3) four-fold cross-validation.


When the results from these three procedures were combined, only two SNP main effects in NOS3, three SNP-covariate interactions (ADRB2 Gly 16 – lipoprotein(a) and SLC4A5 – diabetes interactions), and 25 SNP-SNP interactions (involving SNPs from 29 different genes) were significant, replicated, and cross-validated. Combining the top SNPs, risk factors, and their interactions into a model explained nearly 18% of variation in ABI in the sample. SNPs in six genes (ADD2, ATP6V1B1, PRKAR2B, SLC17A2, SLC22A3, and TGFB3) were also influencing triglycerides, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and lipoprotein(a) levels.


We found that candidate gene SNP main effects, SNP-covariate and SNP-SNP interactions contribute to the inter-individual variation in ABI, a marker of PAD. Our findings underscore the importance of conducting systematic investigations that consider context-dependent frameworks for developing a deeper understanding of the multidimensional genetic and environmental factors that contribute to complex diseases.