A novel method for multiple phenotype association studies based on genotype and phenotype network

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Joint analysis of multiple correlated phenotypes for genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can identify and interpret pleiotropic loci which are essential to understand pleiotropy in diseases and complex traits. Meanwhile, constructing a network based on associations between phenotypes and genotypes provides a new insight to analyze multiple phenotypes, which can explore whether phenotypes and genotypes might be related to each other at a higher level of cellular and organismal organization. In this paper, we first develop a bipartite signed network by linking phenotypes and genotypes into a Genotype and Phenotype Network (GPN). The GPN can be constructed by a mixture of quantitative and qualitative phenotypes and is applicable to binary phenotypes with extremely unbalanced case-control ratios in large-scale biobank datasets. We then apply a powerful community detection method to partition phenotypes into disjoint network modules based on GPN. Finally, we jointly test the association between multiple phenotypes in a network module and a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). Simulations and analyses of 72 complex traits in the UK Biobank show that multiple phenotype association tests based on network modules detected by GPN are much more powerful than those without considering network modules. The newly proposed GPN provides a new insight to investigate the genetic architecture among different types of phenotypes. Multiple phenotypes association studies based on GPN are improved by incorporating the genetic information into the phenotype clustering. Notably, it might broaden the understanding of genetic architecture that exists between diagnoses, genes, and pleiotropy.

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PLoS Genetics