A powerful and versatile colocalization test

Yangqing Deng, Wei Pan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Transcriptome-wide association studies (TWAS and PrediXcan) have been increasingly applied to detect associations between genetically predicted gene expressions and GWAS traits, which may suggest, however do not completely determine, causal genes for GWAS traits, due to the likely violation of their imposed strong assumptions for causal inference. Testing colocalization moves it closer to establishing causal relationships: if a GWAS trait and a gene’s expression share the same associated SNP, it may suggest a regulatory (and thus putative causal) role of the SNP mediated through the gene on the GWAS trait. Accordingly, it is of interest to develop and apply various colocalization testing approaches. The existing approaches may each have some severe limitations. For instance, some methods test the null hypothesis that there is colocalization, which is not ideal because often the null hypothesis cannot be rejected simply due to limited statistical power (with too small sample sizes). Some other methods arbitrarily restrict the maximum number of causal SNPs in a locus, which may lead to loss of power in the presence of wide-spread allelic heterogeneity. Importantly, most methods cannot be applied to either GWAS/eQTL summary statistics or cases with more than two possibly correlated traits. Here we present a simple and general approach based on conditional analysis of a locus on multiple traits, overcoming the above and other shortcomings of the existing methods. We demonstrate that, compared with other methods, our new method can be applied to a wider range of scenarios and often perform better. We showcase its applications to both simulated and real data, including a large-scale Alzheimer’s disease GWAS summary dataset and a gene expression dataset, and a large-scale blood lipid GWAS summary association dataset. An R package “jointsum” implementing the proposed method is publicly available at github.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007778
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NSF grant DMS 1711226; WP was also supported by NIH grants R01AG065636, R01GM113250, R01GM126002, R01HL105397, R01HL116720, and R21AG057038. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Deng, Pan. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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