Powerful and adaptive testing for multi-trait and Multi-SNP associations with GWAS and sequencing data

Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Testing for genetic association with multiple traits has become increasingly important, not only because of its potential to boost statistical power, but also for its direct relevance to applications. For example, there is accumulating evidence showing that some complex neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases like Alzheimer’s disease are due to disrupted brain networks, for which it would be natural to identify genetic variants associated with a disrupted brain network, represented as a set of multiple traits, one for each of multiple brain regions of interest. In spite of its promise, testing for multivariate trait associations is challenging: if not appropriately used, its power can be much lower than testing on each univariate trait separately (with a proper control for multiple testing). Furthermore, differing from most existing methods for single-SNP–multiple-trait associations, we consider SNP set-based association testing to decipher complicated joint effects of multiple SNPs on multiple traits. Because the power of a test critically depends on several unknown factors such as the proportions of associated SNPs and of traits, we propose a highly adaptive test at both the SNP and trait levels, giving higher weights to those likely associated SNPs and traits, to yield high power across a wide spectrum of situations. We illuminate relationships among the proposed and some existing tests, showing that the proposed test covers several existing tests as special cases. We compare the performance of the new test with that of several existing tests, using both simulated and real data. The methods were applied to structural magnetic resonance imaging data drawn from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative to identify genes associated with gray matter atrophy in the human brain default mode network (DMN). For genomewide association studies (GWAS), genes AMOTL1 on chromosome 11 and APOE on chromosome 19 were discovered by the new test to be significantly associated with the DMN. Notably, gene AMOTL1 was not detected by single SNP-based analyses. To our knowledge, AMOTL1 has not been highlighted in other Alzheimer’s disease studies before, although it was indicated to be related to cognitive impairment. The proposed method is also applicable to rare variants in sequencing data and can be extended to pathway analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-731
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the Genetics Society of America.


  • ADNI
  • Adaptive association test
  • Default mode network
  • Gene-based test
  • Imaging genetics
  • Multiple traits


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