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Rare variants association testing for a binary outcome when pooling individual level data from heterogeneous studies

By Tamar Sofer, Na Guo

Posted 18 Apr 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.17.047530

Whole genome and exome sequencing studies are used to test the association of rare genetic variants with health traits. Many existing WGS efforts now aggregate data from heterogeneous groups, e.g. combining sets of individuals of European and African ancestries. We here investigate the statistical implications on rare variant association testing with a binary trait when combining together heterogeneous studies, defined as studies with potentially different disease proportion and different frequency of variant carriers. We study and compare in simulations the type 1 error control and power of the naïve Score test, the saddlepoint approximation to the score test (SPA test), and the BinomiRare test in a range of settings, focusing on low numbers of variant carriers. We show that type 1 error control and power patterns depend on both the number of carriers of the rare allele and on disease prevalence in each of the studies. We develop recommendations for association analysis of rare genetic variants. (1) The Score test is preferred when the case proportion in the sample is 50%. (2) Do not down-sample controls to balance case-control ratio, because it reduces power. Rather, use a test that controls the type 1 error. (3) Conduct stratified analysis in parallel with combined analysis. Aggregated testing may have lower power when the variant effect size differs between strata. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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