Genetic risk factors for stroke-related quantitative traits and their associated ischaemic stroke subtypes
Stroke is the 2nd leading cause of death in the UK and worldwide. 150,000 people have a stroke each year in the UK (ischaemic stroke being the most common) and a significant proportion of NHS resources go towards the treatment of these individuals (~£2.8 billion). Twin and family history studies have shown that having affected relatives makes you between 30 and 76% more likely to suffer a stroke, suggesting that there is a genetic component to the disease. So far, no genes have been convincingly associated with stroke. Intermediate traits may be useful tools for identifying genetic factors in complex disease. For stroke, two commonly used intermediate traits are carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) and white matter hyperintensities (WMHs), which both show high heritabilities. These traits have both been studied widely for associations with many candidate gene polymorphisms. In this thesis I systematically reviewed the literature for all genetic association studies of these two traits. Where particular associations have been studied in large numbers I meta-analysed the available data, developing novel methods for meta-analysis of genetic association data. I found there was substantial heterogeneity and small study bias in the literature and most polymorphisms have still been studied in too small numbers to make accurate conclusions. Apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε is the only polymorphism which shows a consistent association with CIMT, even when only the largest studies are analysed (MD 8μm (95% CI 6 to 11) between E4 and E3, and E3 and E2). No polymorphism has shown a convincing association with WMHs and interestingly APOE appears unlikely to be associated with this trait. This is consistent with previous work that shows that APOE is associated with large artery but not small artery stroke. Taking this hypothesis I attempted to investigate the association of APOE comparing patients who have had a large artery stroke with those who have had a small artery stroke in the Edinburgh Stroke Study cohort. However, genotyping of this polymorphism failed and I present investigatory analyses of problems from the genotyping laboratory.