Testing for association with multiple traits in generalized estimation equations, with application to neuroimaging data

Yiwei Zhang, Zhiyuan Xu, Xiaotong T Shen, Wei Pan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


There is an increasing need to develop and apply powerful statistical tests to detect multiple traits-single locus associations, as arising from neuroimaging genetics and other studies. For example, in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), in addition to genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), thousands of neuroimaging and neuropsychological phenotypes as intermediate phenotypes for Alzheimer's disease, have been collected. Although some classic methods like MANOVA and newly proposed methods may be applied, they have their own limitations. For example, MANOVA cannot be applied to binary and other discrete traits. In addition, the relationships among these methods are not well understood. Importantly, since these tests are not data adaptive, depending on the unknown association patterns among multiple traits and between multiple traits and a locus, these tests may or may not be powerful. In this paper we propose a class of data-adaptive weights and the corresponding weighted tests in the general framework of generalized estimation equations (GEE). A highly adaptive test is proposed to select the most powerful one from this class of the weighted tests so that it can maintain high power across a wide range of situations. Our proposed tests are applicable to various types of traits with or without covariates. Importantly, we also analytically show relationships among some existing and our proposed tests, indicating that many existing tests are special cases of our proposed tests. Extensive simulation studies were conducted to compare and contrast the power properties of various existing and our new methods. Finally, we applied the methods to an ADNI dataset to illustrate the performance of the methods. We conclude with the recommendation for the use of the GEE-based Score test and our proposed adaptive test for their high and complementary performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-325
Number of pages17
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIH grants R01HL65462 , R01HL105397 , R01HL116720 and R01GM081535 , and by the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute. The authors are grateful to the three reviewers for many helpful and constructive comments.


  • ASPU test
  • GEE
  • GWAS
  • Neuroimaging genetics
  • Score test
  • Statistical power
  • Sum of powered score (SPU) test


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