Analytical strategies to include the X-chromosome in variance heterogeneity analyses: evidence for trait-specific polygenic variance structure
Genotype-stratified variance of a quantitative trait could differ in the presence of gene-gene or gene-environment interactions. Genetic markers associated with phenotypic variance are thus considered promising candidates for follow-up interaction or joint location-scale analyses. However, as in studies of main effects, the X-chromosome is routinely excluded from ‘whole-genome’ scans due to analytical challenges. Specifically, as males carry only one copy of the X-chromosome, the inherent sex-genotype dependency could bias the trait-genotype association, through sexual dimorphism in quantitative traits with sex-specific means or variances. Here we investigate phenotypic variance heterogeneity associated with X-chromosome SNPs and propose valid and powerful strategies. Among those, a generalized Levene’s test has adequate power and remains robust to sexual dimorphism. An alternative approach is sex-stratified analysis but at the cost of slightly reduced power and modeling flexibility. We applied both methods to an Estonian study of gene expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL; n =841), and two complex trait studies of height, hip and waist circumferences, and body mass index from multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA; n =2,073) and UK Biobank (UKB; n =327,393). Consistent with previous eQTL findings on mean, we found some but no conclusive evidence for cis regulators being enriched for variance association. SNP rs2681646 is associated with variance of waist circumference ( p =9.5E-07) at X-chromosome-wide significance in UKB, with a suggestive female-specific effect in MESA ( p =0.048). Collectively, an enrichment analysis using permutated UKB ( p <1/10) and MESA ( p <1/100) datasets, suggests a possible polygenic structure for the variance of human height.
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