Polymorphisms in and around the Cholesteryl Ester Transfer Protein (CETP) gene have been associated with HDL levels, risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), and response to therapy. The mechanism of action of these polymorphisms has yet to be defined. We used mRNA allelic expression and splice isoform measurements in human liver tissues to identify the genetic variants affecting CETP levels. Allelic CETP mRNA expression ratios in 56 human livers were strongly associated with several variants 2.5–7 kb upstream of the transcription start site (e.g., rs247616 p = 6.4×10−5, allele frequency 33%). In addition, a common alternatively spliced CETP isoform lacking exon 9 (Δ9), has been shown to prevent CETP secretion in a dominant-negative manner. The Δ 9 expression ranged from 10 to 48% of total CETP mRNA in 94 livers. Increased formation of this isoform was exclusively associated with an exon 9 polymorphism rs5883-C>T (p = 6.8×10−10) and intron 8 polymorphism rs9930761-T>C (5.6×10−8) (in high linkage disequilibrium with allele frequencies 6–7%). rs9930761 changes a key splicing branch point nucleotide in intron 8, while rs5883 alters an exonic splicing enhancer sequence in exon 9
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