UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Comparison of weighting approaches for genetic risk scores in gene-environment interaction studies Hüls, Anke; Krämer, Ursula; Carlsten, Christopher Russell; Schikowski, Tamara; Ickstadt, Katja; Schwender, Holger


Background: Weighted genetic risk scores (GRS), defined as weighted sums of risk alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), are statistically powerful for detection gene-environment (GxE) interactions. To assign weights, the gold standard is to use external weights from an independent study. However, appropriate external weights are not always available. In such situations and in the presence of predominant marginal genetic effects, we have shown in a previous study that GRS with internal weights from marginal genetic effects (“GRS-marginal-internal”) are a powerful and reliable alternative to single SNP approaches or the use of unweighted GRS. However, this approach might not be appropriate for detecting predominant interactions, i.e. interactions showing an effect stronger than the marginal genetic effect. Methods: In this paper, we present a weighting approach for such predominant interactions (“GRS-interaction-training”) in which parts of the data are used to estimate the weights from the interaction terms and the remaining data are used to determine the GRS. We conducted a simulation study for the detection of GxE interactions in which we evaluated power, type I error and sign-misspecification. We compared this new weighting approach to the GRS-marginal-internal approach and to GRS with external weights. Results: Our simulation study showed that in the absence of external weights and with predominant interaction effects, the highest power was reached with the GRS-interaction-training approach. If marginal genetic effects were predominant, the GRS-marginal-internal approach was more appropriate. Furthermore, the power to detect interactions reached by the GRS-interaction-training approach was only slightly lower than the power achieved by GRS with external weights. The power of the GRS-interaction-training approach was confirmed in a real data application to the Traffic, Asthma and Genetics (TAG) Study (N = 4465 observations). Conclusion: When appropriate external weights are unavailable, we recommend to use internal weights from the study population itself to construct weighted GRS for GxE interaction studies. If the SNPs were chosen because a strong marginal genetic effect was hypothesized, GRS-marginal-internal should be used. If the SNPs were chosen because of their collective impact on the biological mechanisms mediating the environmental effect (hypothesis of predominant interactions) GRS-interaction-training should be applied.

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