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Open Access Methodology article

Determination of sample size for a multi-class classifier based on single-nucleotide polymorphisms: a volume under the surface approach

Xinyu Liu1, Yupeng Wang2 and TN Sriram1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Statistics, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA

2 Computational Biology Service Unit, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:190  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-190

Published: 14 June 2014



Data on single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been found to be useful in predicting phenotypes ranging from an individual’s class membership to his/her risk of developing a disease. In multi-class classification scenarios, clinical samples are often limited due to cost constraints, making it necessary to determine the sample size needed to build an accurate classifier based on SNPs. The performance of such classifiers can be assessed using the Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) Curve (AUC) for two classes and the Volume Under the ROC hyper-Surface (VUS) for three or more classes. Sample size determination based on AUC or VUS would not only guarantee an overall correct classification rate, but also make studies more cost-effective.


For coded SNP data from D(≥2) classes, we derive an optimal Bayes classifier and a linear classifier, and obtain a normal approximation to the probability of correct classification for each classifier. These approximations are then used to evaluate the associated AUCs or VUSs, whose accuracies are validated using Monte Carlo simulations. We give a sample size determination method, which ensures that the difference between the two approximate AUCs (or VUSs) is below a pre-specified threshold. The performance of our sample size determination method is then illustrated via simulations. For the HapMap data with three and four populations, a linear classifier is built using 92 independent SNPs and the required total sample sizes are determined for a continuum of threshold values. In all, four different sample size determination studies are conducted with the HapMap data, covering cases involving well-separated populations to poorly-separated ones.


For multi-classes, we have developed a sample size determination methodology and illustrated its usefulness in obtaining a required sample size from the estimated learning curve. For classification scenarios, this methodology will help scientists determine whether a sample at hand is adequate or more samples are required to achieve a pre-specified accuracy. A PDF manual for R package “SampleSizeSNP” is given in Additional file 1, and a ZIP file of the R package “SampleSizeSNP” is given in Additional file 2.

Area under the receiver operating characteristic curve; Classification; HapMap data; Heterogeneous stock mice data; Probability of correct classification; Receiver operating characteristic; Sample size determination