Learning gene networks underlying clinical phenotypes using SNP perturbation

Calvin McCarter, Judie Howrylak, Seyoung Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Availability of genome sequence, molecular, and clinical phenotype data for large patient cohorts generated by recent technological advances provides an opportunity to dissect the genetic architecture of complex diseases at system level. However, previous analyses of such data have largely focused on the co-localization of SNPs associated with clinical and expression traits, each identified from genome-wide association studies and expression quantitative trait locus mapping. Thus, their description of the molecular mechanisms behind the SNPs influencing clinical phenotypes was limited to the single gene linked to the co-localized SNP. Here we introduce PerturbNet, a statistical framework for learning gene networks that modulate the influence of genetic variants on phenotypes, using genetic variants as naturally occurring perturbation of a biological system. PerturbNet uses a probabilistic graphical model to directly model the cascade of perturbation from genetic variants to the gene network to the phenotype network along with the networks at each layer of the biological system. PerturbNet learns the entire model by solving a single optimization problem with an efficient algorithm that can analyze human genome-wide data within a few hours. PerturbNet inference procedures extract a detailed description of how the gene network modulates the genetic effects on phenotypes. Using simulated and asthma data, we demonstrate that PerturbNet improves statistical power for detecting disease-linked SNPs and identifies gene networks and network modules mediating the SNP effects on traits, providing deeper insights into the underlying molecular mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007940
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 23 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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