High-order SNP combinations associated with complex diseases: Efficient discovery, statistical power and functional interactions

Gang Fang, Majda Haznadar, Wen Wang, Haoyu Yu, Michael Steinbach, Timothy R. Church, William S. Oetting, Brian van Ness, Vipin Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


There has been increased interest in discovering combinations of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are strongly associated with a phenotype even if each SNP has little individual effect. Efficient approaches have been proposed for searching two-locus combinations from genome-wide datasets. However, for high-order combinations, existing methods either adopt a brute-force search which only handles a small number of SNPs (up to few hundreds), or use heuristic search that may miss informative combinations. In addition, existing approaches lack statistical power because of the use of statistics with high degrees-of-freedom and the huge number of hypotheses tested during combinatorial search. Due to these challenges, functional interactions in high-order combinations have not been systematically explored. We leverage discriminative-pattern-mining algorithms from the data-mining community to search for high-order combinations in case-control datasets. The substantially improved efficiency and scalability demonstrated on synthetic and real datasets with several thousands of SNPs allows the study of several important mathematical and statistical properties of SNP combinations with order as high as eleven. We further explore functional interactions in high-order combinations and reveal a general connection between the increase in discriminative power of a combination over its subsets and the functional coherence among the genes comprising the combination, supported by multiple datasets. Finally, we study several significant high-order combinations discovered from a lung-cancer dataset and a kidney-transplant-rejection dataset in detail to provide novel insights on the complex diseases. Interestingly, many of these associations involve combinations of common variations that occur in small fractions of population. Thus, our approach is an alternative methodology for exploring the genetics of rare diseases for which the current focus is on individually rare variations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere33531
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 19 2012


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