The influence of genetic background on driver mutations is well established; however, the mechanisms by which the background interacts with Mendelian loci remain unclear. We performed a systematic secondary-variant burden analysis of two independent cohorts of patients with Bardet–Biedl syndrome (BBS) with known recessive biallelic pathogenic mutations in one of 17 BBS genes for each individual. We observed a significant enrichment of trans-acting rare nonsynonymous secondary variants in patients with BBS compared with either population controls or a cohort of individuals with a non-BBS diagnosis and recessive variants in the same gene set. Strikingly, we found a significant over-representation of secondary alleles in chaperonin-encoding genes—a finding corroborated by the observation of epistatic interactions involving this complex in vivo. These data indicate a complex genetic architecture for BBS that informs the biological properties of disease modules and presents a model for secondary-variant burden analysis in recessive disorders.
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