A powerful subset-based gene-set analysis method identifies novel associations and improves interpretation in UK Biobank
Tests of association between a phenotype and a set of genes in a biological pathway can provide insights into the genetic architecture of complex phenotypes beyond those obtained from single variant or single gene association analysis. However, most existing gene set tests have limited power to detect gene set-phenotype association when a small fraction of the genes are associated with the phenotype, and no method exists which identifies the potentially active genes that might drive a gene-set-based association. To address these issues, we have developed Gene-set analysis Association Using Sparse Signals (GAUSS), a method for gene-set association analysis that requires only GWAS summary statistics. For each significantly associated gene set, GAUSS identifies the subset of genes that have the maximal evidence of association and can best account for the gene set association. Using pre-computed correlation structure among test statistics from a reference panel, our p-value calculation is substantially faster than other permutation or simulation-based approaches. In simulations with varying proportions of causal genes, we find that GAUSS effectively controls type 1 error rate and has greater power than several existing methods, particularly when a small proportion of genes account for the gene set signal. Using GAUSS, we analyzed UK Biobank GWAS summary statistics for 10,679 gene-sets and 1,403 binary phenotypes. We found that GAUSS is scalable and identified 13,466 phenotype and gene-set association pairs. Within these genes sets, we identify an average of 17.2 (max=405) genes that underlie these gene set associations. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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