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Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been successful in identifying genetic variants associated with complex diseases. However, association analyses between genotypes and phenotypes are not straightforward due to the complex relationships between genetic and environmental factors. Moreover, multiple correlated phenotypes further complicate such analyses. To resolve this complexity, we present an analysis using structural equation modeling (SEM). Unlike current methods that focus only on identifying direct associations between diseases and genetic variants such as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), our method introduces the effects of intermediate phenotypes, which are related phenotypes distinct from the target, into the systematic genetic study of diseases. Moreover, we consider multiple diseases simultaneously in a single model. The procedure can be summarized in four steps: 1) selection of informative SNPs, 2) extraction of latent variables from the selected SNPs, 3) investigation of the relationships among intermediate phenotypes and diseases, and 4) construction of an SEM. As a result, a quantitative map can be drawn that simultaneously shows the relationship among multiple SNPs, phenotypes, and diseases. In this study, we considered two correlated diseases, hypertension and type 2 diabetes (T2D), which are known to have a substantial overlap in their disease mechanism and have significant public health implications. As intermediate phenotypes for these diseases, we considered three obesity-related phenotypes-subscapular skin fold thickness, body mass index, and waist circumference-as traits representing subcutaneous adiposity, overall adiposity, and abdominal adiposity, respectively. Using GWAS data collected from the Korea Association Resource (KARE) project, we applied the proposed SEM process. Among 327,872 SNPs, 24 informative SNPs were selected in the first step (p<1.0E-05). Ten latent variables were generated in step 2. After an exploratory analysis, we established a path diagram among phenotypes and diseases in step 3. Finally, in step 4, we produced a quantitative map with paths moving from specific SNPs to hypertension through intermediate phenotypes and T2D. The resulting model had high goodness-of-fit measures (χ2 = 536.52, NFI = 0.997, CFI = 0.998, GFI = 0.995, AGFI = 0.993, RMSEA = 0.012).
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: PloS one
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