Joint analysis of multiple phenotypes for extremely unbalanced case-control association studies

Document Type


Publication Date



Department of Mathematical Sciences


In genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for thousands of phenotypes in biobanks, most binary phenotypes have substantially fewer cases than controls. Many widely used approaches for joint analysis of multiple phenotypes produce inflated type I error rates for such extremely unbalanced case-control phenotypes. In this research, we develop a method to jointly analyze multiple unbalanced case-control phenotypes to circumvent this issue. We first group multiple phenotypes into different clusters based on a hierarchical clustering method, then we merge phenotypes in each cluster into a single phenotype. In each cluster, we use the saddlepoint approximation to estimate the p value of an association test between the merged phenotype and a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) which eliminates the issue of inflated type I error rate of the test for extremely unbalanced case-control phenotypes. Finally, we use the Cauchy combination method to obtain an integrated p value for all clusters to test the association between multiple phenotypes and a SNP. We use extensive simulation studies to evaluate the performance of the proposed approach. The results show that the proposed approach can control type I error rate very well and is more powerful than other available methods. We also apply the proposed approach to phenotypes in category IX (diseases of the circulatory system) in the UK Biobank. We find that the proposed approach can identify more significant SNPs than the other viable methods we compared with.

Publication Title

Genetic Epidemiology