Multi-trait transcriptome-wide association studies with probabilistic Mendelian randomization

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A transcriptome-wide association study (TWAS) integrates data from genome-wide association studies and gene expression mapping studies for investigating the gene regulatory mechanisms underlying diseases. Existing TWAS methods are primarily univariate in nature, focusing on analyzing one outcome trait at a time. However, many complex traits are correlated with each other and share a common genetic basis. Consequently, analyzing multiple traits jointly through multivariate analysis can potentially improve the power of TWASs. Here, we develop a method, moPMR-Egger (multiple outcome probabilistic Mendelian randomization with Egger assumption), for analyzing multiple outcome traits in TWAS applications. moPMR-Egger examines one gene at a time, relies on its cis-SNPs that are in potential linkage disequilibrium with each other to serve as instrumental variables, and tests its causal effects on multiple traits jointly. A key feature of moPMR-Egger is its ability to test and control for potential horizontal pleiotropic effects from instruments, thus maximizing power while minimizing false associations for TWASs. In simulations, moPMR-Egger provides calibrated type I error control for both causal effects testing and horizontal pleiotropic effects testing and is more powerful than existing univariate TWAS approaches in detecting causal associations. We apply moPMR-Egger to analyze 11 traits from 5 trait categories in the UK Biobank. In the analysis, moPMR-Egger identified 13.15% more gene associations than univariate approaches across trait categories and revealed distinct regulatory mechanisms underlying systolic and diastolic blood pressures.




Liu, L., Zeng, P., Xue, F., Yuan, Z., & Zhou, X. (2021). Multi-trait transcriptome-wide association studies with probabilistic Mendelian randomization. American Journal of Human Genetics, 108(2), 240–256.

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