Investigation of the genetic architecture of gene expression traits has aided interpretation of disease and trait-associated genetic variants, however key aspects of expression quantitative trait (eQTL) study design and analysis remain understudied. We used extensive, empirically-driven simulations to explore eQTL study design and the performance of various analysis strategies. Across multiple testing correction methods, false discoveries of genes with eQTLs (eGenes) were substantially inflated when false discovery rate (FDR) control was applied to all tests, and only appropriately controlled using hierarchical procedures. All multiple testing correction procedures had low power and inflated FDR for eGenes whose causal SNPs had small allele frequencies using small sample sizes (e.g. frequency <10% in 100 samples), indicating that even moderately low frequency eQTL SNPs (eSNPs) in these studies are enriched for false discoveries. In scenarios with ≥80% power, the top eSNP was the true simulated eSNP 90% of the time, but substantially less frequently for very common eSNPs (minor allele frequencies >25%). Overestimation of eQTL effect sizes, so-called "Winner's Curse", was common in low and moderate power settings. To address this, we developed a bootstrap method (BootstrapQTL) which led to more accurate effect size estimation. These insights provide a foundation for future eQTL studies, especially those with sampling constraints and subtly different conditions.
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