The Role of Genetic Ancestry as a Risk Factor for Primary Open-angle Glaucoma in African Americans

Purpose: POAG is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in African Americans. In this study, we quantitatively assess the association of autosomal ancestry with POAG risk in a large cohort of self-identified African Americans.

Methods: Subjects recruited to the Primary Open-Angle African American Glaucoma Genetics (POAAGG) study were classified as glaucoma cases or controls by fellowship-trained glaucoma specialists. POAAGG subjects were genotyped using the MEGA Ex array (discovery cohort, n = 3830; replication cohort, n = 2135). Population structure was interrogated using principal component analysis in the context of the 1000 Genomes Project superpopulations.

Results: The majority of POAAGG samples lie on an axis between African and European superpopulations, with great variation in admixture. Cases had a significantly lower mean value of the ancestral component q0 than controls for both cohorts (P = 6.14-4; P = 3-6), consistent with higher degree of African ancestry. Among POAG cases, higher African ancestry was also associated with thinner central corneal thickness (P = 2-4). Admixture mapping showed that local genetic ancestry was not a significant risk factor for POAG. A polygenic risk score, comprised of 23 glaucoma-associated single nucleotide polymorphisms from the NHGRI-EBI genome-wide association study catalog, was significant in both cohorts (P < 0.001), suggesting that both known POAG single nucleotide polymorphisms and an omnigenic ancestry effect influence POAG risk.

Conclusions: In sum, the POAAGG study population is very admixed, with a higher degree of African ancestry associated with an increased POAG risk. Further analyses should consider social and environmental factors as possible confounding factors for disease predisposition.


Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci . 2021 Feb 1;62(2):28. doi: 10.1167/iovs.62.2.28.