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Beyond power: Multivariate discovery, replication, and interpretation of pleiotropic loci using summary association statistics

By Zheng Ning, Yakov A. Tsepilov, Sodbo Zh. Sharapov, Alexander K. Grishenko, Xiao Feng, Masoud Shirali, Peter K. Joshi, James F Wilson, Yudi Pawitan, Chris S. Haley, Yurii S Aulchenko, Xia Shen

Posted 08 Jul 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/022269

The ever-growing genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revealed widespread pleiotropy. To exploit this, various methods which consider variant association with multiple traits jointly have been developed. However, most effort has been put on improving discovery power: how to replicate and interpret these discovered pleiotropic loci using multivariate methods has yet to be discussed fully. Using only multiple publicly available single-trait GWAS summary statistics, we develop a fast and flexible multi-trait framework that contains modules for (i) multi-trait genetic discovery, (ii) replication of locus pleiotropic profile, and (iii) multi-trait conditional analysis. The procedure is able to handle any level of sample overlap. As an empirical example, we discovered and replicated 23 novel pleiotropic loci for human anthropometry and evaluated their pleiotropic effects on other traits. By applying conditional multivariate analysis on the 23 loci, we discovered and replicated two additional multi-trait associated SNPs. Our results provide empirical evidence that multi-trait analysis allows detection of additional, replicable, highly pleiotropic genetic associations without genotyping additional individuals. The methods are implemented in a free and open source R package MultiABEL. Author summary By analyzing large-scale genomic data, geneticists have revealed widespread pleiotropy, i.e. single genetic variation can affect a wide range of complex traits. Methods have been developed to discover such genetic variants. However, we still lack insights into the relevant genetic architecture - What more can we learn from knowing the effects of these genetic variants? Here, we develop a fast and flexible statistical analysis procedure that includes discovery, replication, and interpretation of pleiotropic effects. The whole analysis pipeline only requires established genetic association study results. We also provide the mathematical theory behind the pleiotropic genetic effects testing. Most importantly, we show how a replication study can be essential to reveal new biology rather than solely increasing sample size in current genomic studies. For instance, we show that, using our proposed replication strategy, we can detect the difference in genetic effects between studies of different geographical origins. We applied the method to the GIANT consortium anthropometric traits to discover new genetic associations, replicated in the UK Biobank, and provided important new insights into growth and obesity. Our pipeline is implemented in an open-source R package MultiABEL, sufficiently efficient that allows researchers to immediately apply on personal computers in minutes.

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