Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of blindness in the elderly. Previous sequencing studies of AMD susceptibility genes have revealed the association of rare coding variants in CFH, CFI, C3 and C9 in European population; however, the impact of rare or low-frequency coding variants on AMD susceptibility in other populations is largely unknown. To identify the role of low-frequency coding variants on exudative AMD susceptibility in a Japanese population, we analysed the association of coding variants of 34 AMD candidate genes in the two-stage design by a multiplex PCR-based target sequencing method. We used a total of 2,886 (1st: 827, 2nd: 2,059) exudative AMD cases including typical AMD, polypoidal choroidal vasculopathy, and retinal angiomatous proliferation and 9,337 (1st: 3,247 2nd: 6,090) controls. Gene-based analysis found a significant association of low-frequency variants (minor allele frequency (MAF) < 0.05) in CETP, C2 and CFB. The association of CETP remained after conditioned with all known genome-wide association study (GWAS) associated variants. In addition, when we included only disruptive variants, enrichment of rare variants (MAF < 0.01) was also observed after conditioned with all GWAS associated variants (P = 1.03 × 10−6, odds ratio (OR) = 2.48). Haplotype and conditional analysis of the C2-CFB-SKIV2L locus showed a low-frequency variant (R74H) in CFB would be individually associated with AMD susceptibility independent of the GWAS associated SNP. These findings highlight the importance of target sequencing to reveal the impact of rare or low-frequency coding variants on disease susceptibility in different ethnic populations.

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