A Novel Test for Gene-Ancestry Interactions in Genome-Wide Association Data

Joanna L. Davies, Jean-Baptiste Cazier, Malcolm G. Dunlop, Richard S. Houlston, Ian P. Tomlinson, Chris C. Holmes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Genome-wide association study (GWAS) data on a disease are increasingly available from multiple related populations. In this scenario, meta-analyses can improve power to detect homogeneous genetic associations, but if there exist ancestry-specific effects, via interactions on genetic background or with a causal effect that co-varies with genetic background, then these will typically be obscured. To address this issue, we have developed a robust statistical method for detecting susceptibility gene-ancestry interactions in multi-cohort GWAS based on closely-related populations. We use the leading principal components of the empirical genotype matrix to cluster individuals into "ancestry groups" and then look for evidence of heterogeneous genetic associations with disease or other trait across these clusters. Robustness is improved when there are multiple cohorts, as the signal from true gene-ancestry interactions can then be distinguished from gene-collection artefacts by comparing the observed interaction effect sizes in collection groups relative to ancestry groups. When applied to colorectal cancer, we identified a missense polymorphism in iron-absorption gene CYBRD1 that associated with disease in individuals of English, but not Scottish, ancestry. The association replicated in two additional, independently-collected data sets. Our method can be used to detect associations between genetic variants and disease that have been obscured by population genetic heterogeneity. It can be readily extended to the identification of genetic interactions on other covariates such as measured environmental exposures. We envisage our methodology being of particular interest to researchers with existing GWAS data, as ancestry groups can be easily defined and thus tested for interactions. Citation: Davies JL, Cazier J-B, Dunlop MG, Houlston RS, Tomlinson IP, et al. (2012) A Novel Test for Gene-Ancestry Interactions in Genome-Wide Association Data. PLoS ONE 7(12): e48687. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048687

Original languageEnglish
Article numberARTN e48687
Number of pages9
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2012


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