Estimating genetic effects and quantifying missing heritability explained by identified rare-variant associations

Dajiang J. Liu, Suzanne M. Leal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Next-generation sequencing has led to many complex-trait rare-variant (RV) association studies. Although single-variant association analysis can be performed, it is grossly underpowered. Therefore, researchers have developed many RV association tests that aggregate multiple variant sites across a genetic region (e.g., gene), and test for the association between the trait and the aggregated genotype. After these aggregate tests detect an association, it is only possible to estimate the average genetic effect for a group of RVs. As a result of the "winner's curse," such an estimate can be biased. Although for common variants one can obtain unbiased estimates of genetic parameters by analyzing a replication sample, for RVs it is desirable to obtain unbiased genetic estimates for the study where the association is identified. This is because there can be substantial heterogeneity of RV sites and frequencies even among closely related populations. In order to obtain an unbiased estimate for aggregated RV analysis, we developed bootstrap-sample- split algorithms to reduce the bias of the winner's curse. The unbiased estimates are greatly important for understanding the population-specific contribution of RVs to the heritability of complex traits. We also demonstrate both theoretically and via simulations that for aggregate RV analysis the genetic variance for a gene or region will always be underestimated, sometimes substantially, because of the presence of noncausal variants or because of the presence of causal variants with effects of different magnitudes or directions. Therefore, even if RVs play a major role in the complex-trait etiologies, a portion of the heritability will remain missing, and the contribution of RVs to the complex-trait etiologies will be underestimated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-596
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 5 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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