As prior work has shown that different characterizations of the DKD phenotype highlight distinct genetic associations, we investigated a spectrum of DKD definitions based on proteinuria and renal function criteria. Controls were DKD-free after a minimum of 15 years diabetes duration; cases had diabetes for at least 10 years prior to DKD diagnosis. We also performed a quantitative trait analysis of estimated glomerular filtration rate in all participants.
Our top finding was a missense mutation in COL4A3, rs55703767 (Asp326Tyr); the minor allele is common in Europeans (20%) and East Asians (13%) but not Africans (2%). This SNP had a genome-wide significant association with traditionally defined DKD (macroalbuminuria or end-stage renal disease [ESRD], (OR= 0.79, P=1.9×10-9), and a suggestive association with macroalbuminuria (OR= 0.79, P=1.6×10-6) and ESRD (OR= 0.79, P=4.5×10-5) individually. Though its PolyPhen score is 0.3 (benign), this SNP has been implicated as a splice site disruptor.
The COL4A3 gene encodes the alpha 3 subunit of Type IV collagen, the major structural component of basement membranes. Pathogenic mutations in COL4A3 have been identified in thin basement membrane nephropathy, familial focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, and Alport syndrome. A proxy (r2=0.6) for rs55703767 had no significant associations in the CKDGen consortium, suggesting its pathogenicity occurs solely in the setting of hyperglycemia.
By significantly increasing sample size we have discovered a novel locus underlying DKD risk, paving the way for better understanding of pathology, prevention, and treatment.