Quantifying Heterogeneity in the Genetic Architecture of Complex Traits Between Ethnically Diverse Groups using Random Effect Interaction Models
In humans, most genome-wide association studies have been conducted using data from Caucasians and many of the reported findings have not replicated in other populations. This lack of replication may be due to statistical issues (small sample size, confounding) or perhaps more fundamentally to differences in the genetic architecture of traits between ethnically diverse subpopulations. What aspects of the genetic architecture of traits vary between subpopulations and how can this be quantified? We consider studying effect heterogeneity using random-effect Bayesian interaction models. The proposed methodology can be applied using shrinkage and variable selection methods and produces useful information about effect heterogeneity in the form of whole-genome summaries (e.g., SNP-heritability and the average correlation of effects) as well as SNP-specific attributes. Using simulations, we show that the proposed methodology yields (nearly) unbiased estimates of genomic heritability and of the average correlation of effects between groups when the sample size is not too small relative to the number of SNPs used. Subsequently, we used the proposed methodology for the analyses of four complex human traits (standing height, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, and serum urate levels) in European-Americans (EAs) and African-Americans (AAs). The estimated correlations of effects between the two subpopulations was well below unity for all the traits, ranging from 0.73 to 0.50. The extent of effect heterogeneity varied between traits and SNP-sets. Height showed less differences in SNP effects between AAs and EAs whereas HDL, a trait highly influenced by lifestyle, exhibited greater extent of effect heterogeneity. For all the traits we observed substantial variability in effect heterogeneity across SNPs, suggesting it varies between regions of the genome.
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