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Title: On genetic variants underlying common disease
Author: Hechter, Eliana
ISNI:       0000 0004 2722 1903
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) exploit the correlation in ge- netic diversity along chromosomes in order to detect effects on disease risk without having to type causal loci directly. The inevitable downside of this approach is that, when the correlation between the marker and the causal variant is imperfect, the risk associated with carrying the predisposing allele is diluted and its effect is underestimated. This thesis explores four different facets of this risk dilution: (1) estimating true effect sizes from those observed in GWAS; (2) asking how the context of a GWAS, including the population studied, the genotyping chip employed, and the use of im- putation, affects risk estimates; (3) assessing how often the best-associated SNP in a GWAS coincides with the causal variant; and (4) quantifying how departures from the simplest disease risk model at a causal variant distort the observed disease risk model. Using simulations, where we have information about the true risk at the causal locus, we show that the correlation between the marker and the causal variant is the primary driver of effect size underestimation. The extent of the underestimation depends on a number of factors, including the population in which the study is conducted, the genotyping chip employed, whether imputation is used, and the strength, frequency, and disease model of the risk allele. Suppose that a GWAS study is conducted in a European population, with an Affymetrix 6.0 genotyping chip, without imputation, and that the causal loci have a modest effect on disease risk, are common in the population, and follow an additive disease risk model. In such a study, we show that the risk estimated from the most associated SNP is very close to the truth approximately two-thirds of the time (although we predict that fine mapping of GWAS loci will infrequently identify causal variants with considerably higher risk), and that the best-associated variant is very often perfectly or nearly-perfectly correlated with, and almost always within 0.1cM of, the causal variant. However, the strong correlations among nearby loci mean that the causal and best-associated variants coincide infrequently, less than one-fifth of the time, even if the causal variant is genotyped. We explore ways in which these results change quantitatively depending on the parameters of the GWAS study. Additionally, we demonstrate that we expect to identify substantial deviations from the additive disease risk model among loci where association is detected, even though power to detect departures from the model drops off very quickly as the correlation between the marker and causal loci decreases. Finally, we discuss the implications of our results for the design and interpretation of future GWAS studies.
Supervisor: Donnelly, Peter Sponsor: Rhodes House
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Bioinformatics (life sciences) ; Genetics (life sciences) ; Genetics (medical sciences) ; Computationally-intensive statistics ; Mathematical genetics and bioinformatics (statistics) ; statistical genetics ; population genetics ; genome-wide association studies