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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond heritability: improving discoverability in imaging genetics.

  • Author(s): Fan, Chun Chieh
  • Smeland, Olav B
  • Schork, Andrew J
  • Chen, Chi-Hua
  • Holland, Dominic
  • Lo, Min-Tzu
  • Sundar, VS
  • Frei, Oleksandr
  • Jernigan, Terry L
  • Andreassen, Ole A
  • Dale, Anders M
  • et al.

Structural neuroimaging measures based on magnetic resonance imaging have been at the forefront of imaging genetics. Global efforts to ensure homogeneity of measurements across study sites have enabled large-scale imaging genetic projects, accumulating nearly 50K samples for genome-wide association studies (GWAS). However, not many novel genetic variants have been identified by these GWAS, despite the high heritability of structural neuroimaging measures. Here, we discuss the limitations of using heritability as a guidance for assessing statistical power of GWAS, and highlight the importance of discoverability-which is the power to detect genetic variants for a given phenotype depending on its unique genomic architecture and GWAS sample size. Further, we present newly developed methods that boost genetic discovery in imaging genetics. By redefining imaging measures independent of traditional anatomical conventions, it is possible to improve discoverability, enabling identification of more genetic effects. Moreover, by leveraging enrichment priors from genomic annotations and independent GWAS of pleiotropic traits, we can better characterize effect size distributions, and identify reliable and replicable loci associated with structural neuroimaging measures. Statistical tools leveraging novel insights into the genetic discoverability of human traits, promises to accelerate the identification of genetic underpinnings underlying brain structural variation.

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