Research

Credible set coverage in Bayesian fine-mapping

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Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) have successfully identified thousands of loci associated with human diseases. Bayesian genetic fine-mapping studies aim to identify the specific causal variants within GWAS loci responsible for each association, reporting credible sets of plausible causal variants, which are interpreted as containing the causal variant with some “coverage probability”. Here, we use simulations to demonstrate that the coverage probabilities are over-conservative in most fine-mapping situations. We show that this is because fine-mapping data sets are not randomly selected from amongst all causal variants, but from amongst causal variants with larger effect sizes. We present a method to re-estimate the coverage of credible sets using rapid simulations based on the observed, or estimated, SNP correlation structure, we call this the “adjusted coverage estimate”. This is extended to find “adjusted credible sets”, which are the smallest set of variants such that their adjusted coverage estimate meets the target coverage. We use our method to improve the resolution of a fine-mapping study of type 1 diabetes. We found that in 27 out of 39 associated genomic regions our method could reduce the number of potentially causal variants to consider for follow-up, and found that none of the 95% or 99% credible sets required the inclusion of more variants—a pattern matched in simulations of well powered GWAS. Crucially, our method requires only GWAS summary statistics and remains accurate when SNP correlations are estimated from a large reference panel. Using our method to improve the resolution of fine-mapping studies will enable more efficient expenditure of resources in the follow-up process of annotating the variants in the credible set to determine the implicated genes and pathways in human diseases.

Leveraging auxiliary data from arbitrary distributions to boost GWAS discovery with Flexible cFDR

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Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified thousands of genetic variants that are associated with complex traits. However, a stringent significance threshold is required to identify robust genetic associations. Leveraging relevant auxiliary data has the potential to boost statistical power to exceed the significance threshold. Particularly, abundant pleiotropy and the non-random distribution of SNPs across various functional categories suggests that leveraging GWAS test statistics from related traits and/or functional genomic data may boost GWAS discovery. While type 1 error rate control has become standard in GWAS, control of the false discovery rate (FDR) can be a more powerful approach as sample sizes increase and many associations are expected in each study. The conditional false discovery rate (cFDR) extends the standard FDR framework by conditioning on auxiliary data to call significant associations, but current implementations are restricted to auxiliary data satisfying specific parametric distributions. We relax the distributional assumptions, enabling an extension of the cFDR framework that supports auxiliary data from any continuous distribution (“Flexible cFDR”). Our method is iterative, whereby additional layers of auxiliary data can be leveraged in turn. Through simulations we show that flexible cFDR increases sensitivity whilst controlling FDR after one or several iterations. We further demonstrate its practical potential through application to an asthma GWAS, leveraging various functional data to find additional genetic associations for asthma which we validated in the larger UK Biobank data resource.

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