Functional regulatory variants implicate distinct transcriptional networks in dementia

Predicting the function of noncoding variation is a major challenge in modern genetics. In this study, we used massively parallel reporter assays to screen 5706 variants identified from genome-wide association studies for both Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), identifying 320 functional regulatory variants (frVars) across 27 loci, including the complex 17q21.31 region. We identified and validated multiple risk loci using CRISPR interference or excision, including complement 4 (C4A) and APOC1 in AD and PLEKHM1 and KANSL1 in PSP. Functional variants disrupt transcription factor binding sites converging on enhancers with cell type-specific activity in PSP and AD, implicating a neuronal SP1-driven regulatory network in PSP pathogenesis. These analyses suggest that noncoding genetic risk is driven by common genetic variants through their aggregate activity on specific transcriptional programs.