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Title: Estimation of cis-eQTL Effect Sizes Using a Log of Linear Model

The study of expression Quantitative Trait Loci (eQTL) is an important problem in genomics and biomedicine. While detection (testing) of eQTL associations has been widely studied, less work has been devoted to the estimation of eQTL effect size. To reduce false positives, detection methods frequently rely on linear modeling of rank-based normalized or log-transformed gene expression data. Unfortunately, these approaches do not correspond to the simplest model of eQTL action, and thus yield estimates of eQTL association that can be uninterpretable and inaccurate. In this article, we propose a new, log-of-linear model for eQTL action, termed ACME, that captures allelic contributions to cis-acting eQTLs in an additive fashion, yielding effect size estimates that correspond to a biologically coherent model of cis-eQTLs. We describe a non-linear least-squares algorithm to fit the model by maximum likelihood, and obtain corresponding p-values. We perform careful investigation of the model using a combination of simulated data and data from the Genotype Tissue Expression (GTEx) project. Our results reveal little evidence for dominance effects, a parsimonious result that accords with a simple biological model for allele-specific expression and supports use of the ACME model. We show that Type-I error is well-controlled under our approach in a realistic setting, so that rank-based normalizations are unnecessary. Furthermore, we show that such normalizations can be detrimental to power and estimation accuracy under the proposed model. We then show, through effect size analyses of whole-genome cis-eQTLs in the GTEx data, that using standard normalizations instead of ACME noticeably affects the ranking and sign of estimates.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X Size: p. 616-625
p. 616-625
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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    Abstract Motivation

    Identifying cis-acting genetic variants associated with gene expression levels—an analysis commonly referred to as expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) mapping—is an important first step toward understanding the genetic determinant of gene expression variation. Successful eQTL mapping requires effective control of confounding factors. A common method for confounding effects control in eQTL mapping studies is the probabilistic estimation of expression residual (PEER) analysis. PEER analysis extracts PEER factors to serve as surrogates for confounding factors, which is further included in the subsequent eQTL mapping analysis. However, it is computationally challenging to determine the optimal number of PEER factors used for eQTL mapping. In particular, the standard approach to determine the optimal number of PEER factors examines one number at a time and chooses a number that optimizes eQTLs discovery. Unfortunately, this standard approach involves multiple repetitive eQTL mapping procedures that are computationally expensive, restricting its use in large-scale eQTL mapping studies that being collected today.


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    Availabilityand implementation

    Our method is implemented in the ECCO software, which, along with its GTEx mapping results, is freely available at All R scripts used in this study are also available at this site.

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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    Availability and Implementation

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    Supplementary information

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