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Open Access Open Badges Research article

A unified framework for multi-locus association analysis of both common and rare variants

Daniel Shriner1* and Laura Kelly Vaughan2

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892 USA

2 Department of Biostatistics, Section on Statistical Genetics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294 USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:89  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-89

Published: 31 January 2011



Common, complex diseases are hypothesized to result from a combination of common and rare genetic variants. We developed a unified framework for the joint association testing of both types of variants. Within the framework, we developed a union-intersection test suitable for genome-wide analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), candidate gene data, as well as medical sequencing data. The union-intersection test is a composite test of association of genotype frequencies and differential correlation among markers.


We demonstrated by computer simulation that the false positive error rate was controlled at the expected level. We also demonstrated scenarios in which the multi-locus test was more powerful than traditional single marker analysis. To illustrate use of the union-intersection test with real data, we analyzed a publically available data set of 319,813 autosomal SNPs genotyped for 938 cases of Parkinson disease and 863 neurologically normal controls for which no genome-wide significant results were found by traditional single marker analysis. We also analyzed an independent follow-up sample of 183 cases and 248 controls for replication.


We identified a single risk haplotype with a directionally consistent effect in both samples in the gene GAK, which is involved in clathrin-mediated membrane trafficking. We also found suggestive evidence that directionally inconsistent marginal effects from single marker analysis appeared to result from risk being driven by different haplotypes in the two samples for the genes SYN3 and NGLY1, which are involved in neurotransmitter release and proteasomal degradation, respectively. These results illustrate the utility of our unified framework for genome-wide association analysis of common, complex diseases.