How powerful are summary-based methods for identifying expression-trait associations under different genetic architectures?

Yogasudha Veturi, Marylyn D. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalConference article

7 Scopus citations


Transcriptome-wide association studies (TWAS) have recently been employed as an approach that can draw upon the advantages of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and gene expression studies to identify genes associated with complex traits. Unlike standard GWAS, summary level data suffices for TWAS and offers improved statistical power. Two popular TWAS methods include either (a) imputing the cis genetic component of gene expression from smaller sized studies (using multi-SNP prediction or MP) into much larger effective sample sizes afforded by GWAS –-TWAS-MP or (b) using summary-based Mendelian randomization –-TWAS-SMR. Although these methods have been effective at detecting functional variants, it remains unclear how extensive variability in the genetic architecture of complex traits and diseases impacts TWAS results. Our goal was to investigate the different scenarios under which these methods yielded enough power to detect significant expression-trait associations. In this study, we conducted extensive simulations based on 6000 randomly chosen, unrelated Caucasian males from Geisinger’s MyCode population to compare the power to detect cis expression-trait associations (within 500 kb of a gene) using the above-described approaches. To test TWAS across varying genetic backgrounds we simulated gene expression and phenotype using different quantitative trait loci per gene and cis-expression/trait heritability under genetic models that differentiate the effect of causality from that of pleiotropy. For each gene, on a training set ranging from 100 to 1000 individuals, we either (a) estimated regression coefficients with gene expression as the response using five different methods: LASSO, elastic net, Bayesian LASSO, Bayesian spike-slab, and Bayesian ridge regression or (b) performed eQTL analysis. We then sampled with replacement 50,000, 150,000, and 300,000 individuals respectively from the testing set of the remaining 5000 individuals and conducted GWAS on each set. Subsequently, we integrated the GWAS summary statistics derived from the testing set with the weights (or eQTLs) derived from the training set to identify expression-trait associations using (a) TWAS-MP (b) TWAS-SMR (c) eQTL-based GWAS, or (d) standalone GWAS. Finally, we examined the power to detect functionally relevant genes using the different approaches under the considered simulation scenarios. In general, we observed great similarities among TWAS-MP methods although the Bayesian methods resulted in improved power in comparison to LASSO and elastic net as the trait architecture grew more complex while training sample sizes and expression heritability remained small. Finally, we observed high power under causality but very low to moderate power under pleiotropy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-239
Number of pages12
JournalPacific Symposium on Biocomputing
Issue number212669
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Event23rd Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing, PSB 2018 - Kohala Coast, United States
Duration: Jan 3 2018Jan 7 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics

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