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1.  Interrogating local population structure for fine mapping in genome-wide association studies 
Bioinformatics  2010;26(23):2961-2968.
Motivation: Adjustment for population structure is necessary to avoid bias in genetic association studies of susceptibility variants for complex diseases. Population structure may differ from one genomic region to another due to the variability of individual ancestry associated with migration, random genetic drift or natural selection. Current association methods for correcting population stratification usually involve adjustment of global ancestry between study subjects.
Results: We suggest interrogating local population structure for fine mapping to more accurately locate true casual genes by better adjusting the confounding effect due to local ancestry. By extensive simulations on genome-wide datasets, we show that adjusting global ancestry may lead to false positives when local population structure is an important confounding factor. In contrast, adjusting local ancestry can effectively prevent false positives due to local population structure and thus can improve fine mapping for disease gene localization. We applied the local and global adjustments to the analysis of datasets from three genome-wide association studies, including European Americans, African Americans and Nigerians. Both European Americans and African Americans demonstrate greater variability in local ancestry than Nigerians. Adjusting local ancestry successfully eliminated the known spurious association between SNPs in the LCT gene and height due to the population structure existed in European Americans.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2982153  PMID: 20889494
2.  Generalization and Dilution of Association Results from European GWAS in Populations of Non-European Ancestry: The PAGE Study 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(9):e1001661.
A multi-ethnic study demonstrates that the extrapolation of genetic disease risk models from European populations to other ethnicities is compromised more strongly by genetic structure than by environmental or global genetic background in differential genetic risk associations across ethnicities.
The vast majority of genome-wide association study (GWAS) findings reported to date are from populations with European Ancestry (EA), and it is not yet clear how broadly the genetic associations described will generalize to populations of diverse ancestry. The Population Architecture Using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) study is a consortium of multi-ancestry, population-based studies formed with the objective of refining our understanding of the genetic architecture of common traits emerging from GWAS. In the present analysis of five common diseases and traits, including body mass index, type 2 diabetes, and lipid levels, we compare direction and magnitude of effects for GWAS-identified variants in multiple non-EA populations against EA findings. We demonstrate that, in all populations analyzed, a significant majority of GWAS-identified variants have allelic associations in the same direction as in EA, with none showing a statistically significant effect in the opposite direction, after adjustment for multiple testing. However, 25% of tagSNPs identified in EA GWAS have significantly different effect sizes in at least one non-EA population, and these differential effects were most frequent in African Americans where all differential effects were diluted toward the null. We demonstrate that differential LD between tagSNPs and functional variants within populations contributes significantly to dilute effect sizes in this population. Although most variants identified from GWAS in EA populations generalize to all non-EA populations assessed, genetic models derived from GWAS findings in EA may generate spurious results in non-EA populations due to differential effect sizes. Regardless of the origin of the differential effects, caution should be exercised in applying any genetic risk prediction model based on tagSNPs outside of the ancestry group in which it was derived. Models based directly on functional variation may generalize more robustly, but the identification of functional variants remains challenging.
Author Summary
The number of known associations between human diseases and common genetic variants has grown dramatically in the past decade, most being identified in large-scale genetic studies of people of Western European origin. But because the frequencies of genetic variants can differ substantially between continental populations, it's important to assess how well these associations can be extended to populations with different continental ancestry. Are the correlations between genetic variants, disease endpoints, and risk factors consistent enough for genetic risk models to be reliably applied across different ancestries? Here we describe a systematic analysis of disease outcome and risk-factor–associated variants (tagSNPs) identified in European populations, in which we test whether the effect size of a tagSNP is consistent across six populations with significant non-European ancestry. We demonstrate that although nearly all such tagSNPs have effects in the same direction across all ancestries (i.e., variants associated with higher risk in Europeans will also be associated with higher risk in other populations), roughly a quarter of the variants tested have significantly different magnitude of effect (usually lower) in at least one non-European population. We therefore advise caution in the use of tagSNP-based genetic disease risk models in populations that have a different genetic ancestry from the population in which original associations were first made. We then show that this differential strength of association can be attributed to population-dependent variations in the correlation between tagSNPs and the variant that actually determines risk—the so-called functional variant. Risk models based on functional variants are therefore likely to be more robust than tagSNP-based models.
PMCID: PMC3775722  PMID: 24068893
3.  Allowing for Population Stratification in Association Analysis 
In genetic association studies, it is necessary to correct for population structure to avoid inference bias. During the past decade, prevailing corrections often only involved adjustments of global ancestry differences between sampled individuals. Nevertheless, population structure may vary across local genomic regions due to the variability of local ancestries associated with natural selection, migration, or random genetic drift. Adjusting for global ancestry alone may be inadequate when local population structure is an important confounding factor. In contrast, adjusting for local ancestry can more effectively prevent false-positives due to local population structure. To more accurately locate disease genes, we recommend adjusting for local ancestries by interrogating local structure. In practice, locus-specific ancestries are usually unknown and cannot be accurately inferred when ancestral population information is not available. For such scenarios, we propose employing local principal components (PC) to represent local ancestries and adjusting for local PCs when testing for genotype–phenotype association. With an acceptable computation burden, the proposed algorithm successfully eliminates the known spurious association between SNPs in the LCT gene and height due to the population structure in European Americans.
PMCID: PMC3589145  PMID: 22307710
Genome-wide association studies; Local ancestries; Local principal components; Migration; Random genetic drift; Natural selection; Genomic inflation factor; Genomic control; Local ancestry principal components correction; Fine mapping
4.  Early Back-to-Africa Migration into the Horn of Africa 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(6):e1004393.
Genetic studies have identified substantial non-African admixture in the Horn of Africa (HOA). In the most recent genomic studies, this non-African ancestry has been attributed to admixture with Middle Eastern populations during the last few thousand years. However, mitochondrial and Y chromosome data are suggestive of earlier episodes of admixture. To investigate this further, we generated new genome-wide SNP data for a Yemeni population sample and merged these new data with published genome-wide genetic data from the HOA and a broad selection of surrounding populations. We used multidimensional scaling and ADMIXTURE methods in an exploratory data analysis to develop hypotheses on admixture and population structure in HOA populations. These analyses suggested that there might be distinct, differentiated African and non-African ancestries in the HOA. After partitioning the SNP data into African and non-African origin chromosome segments, we found support for a distinct African (Ethiopic) ancestry and a distinct non-African (Ethio-Somali) ancestry in HOA populations. The African Ethiopic ancestry is tightly restricted to HOA populations and likely represents an autochthonous HOA population. The non-African ancestry in the HOA, which is primarily attributed to a novel Ethio-Somali inferred ancestry component, is significantly differentiated from all neighboring non-African ancestries in North Africa, the Levant, and Arabia. The Ethio-Somali ancestry is found in all admixed HOA ethnic groups, shows little inter-individual variance within these ethnic groups, is estimated to have diverged from all other non-African ancestries by at least 23 ka, and does not carry the unique Arabian lactase persistence allele that arose about 4 ka. Taking into account published mitochondrial, Y chromosome, paleoclimate, and archaeological data, we find that the time of the Ethio-Somali back-to-Africa migration is most likely pre-agricultural.
Author Summary
The Horn of Africa (HOA) occupies a central place in our understanding of modern human origins. This region is the location of the earliest known modern human fossils, a possible source for the out-of-Africa migration, and one of the most genetically and linguistically diverse regions of the world. Numerous genetic studies over the last decades have identified substantial non-African ancestry in populations in this region. Because there is archaeological, historical, and linguistic evidence for contact with non-African populations beginning about 3,000 years ago, it has often been assumed that the non-African ancestry in HOA populations dates to this time. In this work, we find that the genetic composition of non-African ancestry in the HOA is distinct from the genetic composition of current populations in North Africa and the Middle East. With these data, we demonstrate that most non-African ancestry in the HOA cannot be the result of admixture within the last few thousand years, and that the majority of admixture probably occurred prior to the advent of agriculture. These results contribute to a growing body of work showing that prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations were much more dynamic than usually assumed.
PMCID: PMC4055572  PMID: 24921250
5.  Adjustment for local ancestry in genetic association analysis of admixed populations 
Bioinformatics  2010;27(5):670-677.
Motivation: Admixed populations offer a unique opportunity for mapping diseases that have large disease allele frequency differences between ancestral populations. However, association analysis in such populations is challenging because population stratification may lead to association with loci unlinked to the disease locus.
Methods and results: We show that local ancestry at a test single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) may confound with the association signal and ignoring it can lead to spurious association. We demonstrate theoretically that adjustment for local ancestry at the test SNP is sufficient to remove the spurious association regardless of the mechanism of population stratification, whether due to local or global ancestry differences among study subjects; however, global ancestry adjustment procedures may not be effective. We further develop two novel association tests that adjust for local ancestry. Our first test is based on a conditional likelihood framework which models the distribution of the test SNP given disease status and flanking marker genotypes. A key advantage of this test lies in its ability to incorporate different directions of association in the ancestral populations. Our second test, which is computationally simpler, is based on logistic regression, with adjustment for local ancestry proportion. We conducted extensive simulations and found that the Type I error rates of our tests are under control; however, the global adjustment procedures yielded inflated Type I error rates when stratification is due to local ancestry difference.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3042179  PMID: 21169375
6.  Genomic Ancestry of North Africans Supports Back-to-Africa Migrations 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(1):e1002397.
North African populations are distinct from sub-Saharan Africans based on cultural, linguistic, and phenotypic attributes; however, the time and the extent of genetic divergence between populations north and south of the Sahara remain poorly understood. Here, we interrogate the multilayered history of North Africa by characterizing the effect of hypothesized migrations from the Near East, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa on current genetic diversity. We present dense, genome-wide SNP genotyping array data (730,000 sites) from seven North African populations, spanning from Egypt to Morocco, and one Spanish population. We identify a gradient of likely autochthonous Maghrebi ancestry that increases from east to west across northern Africa; this ancestry is likely derived from “back-to-Africa” gene flow more than 12,000 years ago (ya), prior to the Holocene. The indigenous North African ancestry is more frequent in populations with historical Berber ethnicity. In most North African populations we also see substantial shared ancestry with the Near East, and to a lesser extent sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. To estimate the time of migration from sub-Saharan populations into North Africa, we implement a maximum likelihood dating method based on the distribution of migrant tracts. In order to first identify migrant tracts, we assign local ancestry to haplotypes using a novel, principal component-based analysis of three ancestral populations. We estimate that a migration of western African origin into Morocco began about 40 generations ago (approximately 1,200 ya); a migration of individuals with Nilotic ancestry into Egypt occurred about 25 generations ago (approximately 750 ya). Our genomic data reveal an extraordinarily complex history of migrations, involving at least five ancestral populations, into North Africa.
Author Summary
Proposed migrations between North Africa and neighboring regions have included Paleolithic gene flow from the Near East, an Arabic migration across the whole of North Africa 1,400 years ago (ya), and trans-Saharan transport of slaves from sub-Saharan Africa. Historical records, archaeology, and mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA have been marshaled in support of one theory or another, but there is little consensus regarding the overall genetic background of North African populations or their origin and expansion. We characterize the patterns of genetic variation in North Africa using ∼730,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms from across the genome for seven populations. We observe two distinct, opposite gradients of ancestry: an east-to-west increase in likely autochthonous North African ancestry and an east-to-west decrease in likely Near Eastern Arabic ancestry. The indigenous North African ancestry may have been more common in Berber populations and appears most closely related to populations outside of Africa, but divergence between Maghrebi peoples and Near Eastern/Europeans likely precedes the Holocene (>12,000 ya). We also find significant signatures of sub-Saharan African ancestry that vary substantially among populations. These sub-Saharan ancestries appear to be a recent introduction into North African populations, dating to about 1,200 years ago in southern Morocco and about 750 years ago into Egypt, possibly reflecting the patterns of the trans-Saharan slave trade that occurred during this period.
PMCID: PMC3257290  PMID: 22253600
7.  Genetic Association for Renal Traits among Participants of African Ancestry Reveals New Loci for Renal Function 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(9):e1002264.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an increasing global public health concern, particularly among populations of African ancestry. We performed an interrogation of known renal loci, genome-wide association (GWA), and IBC candidate-gene SNP association analyses in African Americans from the CARe Renal Consortium. In up to 8,110 participants, we performed meta-analyses of GWA and IBC array data for estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), CKD (eGFR <60 mL/min/1.73 m2), urinary albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR), and microalbuminuria (UACR >30 mg/g) and interrogated the 250 kb flanking region around 24 SNPs previously identified in European Ancestry renal GWAS analyses. Findings were replicated in up to 4,358 African Americans. To assess function, individually identified genes were knocked down in zebrafish embryos by morpholino antisense oligonucleotides. Expression of kidney-specific genes was assessed by in situ hybridization, and glomerular filtration was evaluated by dextran clearance. Overall, 23 of 24 previously identified SNPs had direction-consistent associations with eGFR in African Americans, 2 of which achieved nominal significance (UMOD, PIP5K1B). Interrogation of the flanking regions uncovered 24 new index SNPs in African Americans, 12 of which were replicated (UMOD, ANXA9, GCKR, TFDP2, DAB2, VEGFA, ATXN2, GATM, SLC22A2, TMEM60, SLC6A13, and BCAS3). In addition, we identified 3 suggestive loci at DOK6 (p-value = 5.3×10−7) and FNDC1 (p-value = 3.0×10−7) for UACR, and KCNQ1 with eGFR (p = 3.6×10−6). Morpholino knockdown of kcnq1 in the zebrafish resulted in abnormal kidney development and filtration capacity. We identified several SNPs in association with eGFR in African Ancestry individuals, as well as 3 suggestive loci for UACR and eGFR. Functional genetic studies support a role for kcnq1 in glomerular development in zebrafish.
Author Summary
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an increasing global public health problem and disproportionately affects populations of African ancestry. Many studies have shown that genetic variants are associated with the development of CKD; however, similar studies are lacking in African ancestry populations. The CARe consortium consists of more than 8,000 individuals of African ancestry; genome-wide association analysis for renal-related phenotypes was conducted. In cross-ethnicity analyses, we found that 23 of 24 previously identified SNPs in European ancestry populations have the same effect direction in our samples of African ancestry. We also identified 3 suggestive genetic variants associated with measurement of kidney function. We then tested these genes in zebrafish knockdown models and demonstrated that kcnq1 is involved in kidney development in zebrafish. These results highlight the similarity of genetic variants across ethnicities and show that cross-species modeling in zebrafish is feasible for genes associated with chronic human disease.
PMCID: PMC3169523  PMID: 21931561
8.  Rapid Assessment of Genetic Ancestry in Populations of Unknown Origin by Genome-Wide Genotyping of Pooled Samples 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(3):e1000866.
As we move forward from the current generation of genome-wide association (GWA) studies, additional cohorts of different ancestries will be studied to increase power, fine map association signals, and generalize association results to additional populations. Knowledge of genetic ancestry as well as population substructure will become increasingly important for GWA studies in populations of unknown ancestry. Here we propose genotyping pooled DNA samples using genome-wide SNP arrays as a viable option to efficiently and inexpensively estimate admixture proportion and identify ancestry informative markers (AIMs) in populations of unknown origin. We constructed DNA pools from African American, Native Hawaiian, Latina, and Jamaican samples and genotyped them using the Affymetrix 6.0 array. Aided by individual genotype data from the African American cohort, we established quality control filters to remove poorly performing SNPs and estimated allele frequencies for the remaining SNPs in each panel. We then applied a regression-based method to estimate the proportion of admixture in each cohort using the allele frequencies estimated from pooling and populations from the International HapMap Consortium as reference panels, and identified AIMs unique to each population. In this study, we demonstrated that genotyping pooled DNA samples yields estimates of admixture proportion that are both consistent with our knowledge of population history and similar to those obtained by genotyping known AIMs. Furthermore, through validation by individual genotyping, we demonstrated that pooling is quite effective for identifying SNPs with large allele frequency differences (i.e., AIMs) and that these AIMs are able to differentiate two closely related populations (HapMap JPT and CHB).
Author Summary
Many association studies have been published looking for genetic variants contributing to a variety of human traits such as obesity, diabetes, and height. Because the frequency of genetic variants can differ across populations, it is important to have estimates of genetic ancestry in the individuals being studied. In this study, we were able to measure genetic ancestry in populations of mixed ancestry by genotyping pooled, rather than individual, DNA samples. This represents a rapid and inexpensive means for modeling genetic ancestry and thus could facilitate future association or population-genetic studies in populations of unknown ancestry for which whole-genome data do not already exist.
PMCID: PMC2832667  PMID: 20221249
9.  Replication of genetic loci for sarcoidosis in US black women: data from the Black Women's Health Study 
Human genetics  2013;132(7):803-810.
In the United States, incidence and mortality from sarcoidosis, a chronic, granulomatous disease, are increased in black women. In data from the Black Women's Health Study, a follow-up of US black women, we assessed two SNPs (rs2076530 and rs9268480) previously identified in the BTNL2 gene (chromosome 6p21), of which rs4424066 and rs3817963 are perfect proxies, to determine if they represent independent signals of disease risk. We also assessed whether local ancestry in four genomic regions previously identified through admixture mapping was associated with sarcoidosis. Finally, we assessed the relation of global percent African ancestry to risk. We conducted a nested case–control study of 486 sarcoidosis cases and 943 age- and geography-matched controls. Both BTNL2 SNPs were associated with risk of sarcoidosis in separate models, but in a combined analysis the increased risk was due to the A-allele of the rs3817963 SNP; each copy of the A-allele was associated with a 40 % increase in risk of sarcoidosis (p = 0.02) and was confirmed by our haplotypic analysis. Local African ancestry around the rs30533 ancestry informative marker at chromosome 5q31 was associated with a 29 % risk reduction (p = 0.01). Therefore, we adjusted our analysis of global African ancestry for number of copies of African alleles in rs30533. Subjects in the highest quintile of percent African ancestry had a 54 % increased risk of sarcoidosis. The present results from a population of African-American women support the role of the BTNL2 gene and the 5q31 locus in the etiology of sarcoidosis, and also demonstrate that percent African ancestry is associated with disease risk.
PMCID: PMC3746966  PMID: 23543185
10.  Confounding and Heterogeneity in Genetic Association Studies with Admixed Populations 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2013;177(4):351-360.
Association studies among admixed populations pose many challenges including confounding of genetic effects due to population substructure and heterogeneity due to different patterns of linkage disequilibrium (LD). We use simulations to investigate controlling for confounding by indicators of global ancestry and the impact of including a covariate for local ancestry. In addition, we investigate the use of an interaction term between a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and local ancestry to capture heterogeneity in SNP effects. Although adjustment for global ancestry can control for confounding, additional adjustment for local ancestry may increase power when the induced admixture LD is in the opposite direction as the LD in the ancestral population. However, if the induced LD is in the same direction, there is the potential for reduced power because of overadjustment. Furthermore, the inclusion of a SNP by local ancestry interaction term can increase power when there is substantial differential LD between ancestry populations. We examine these approaches in genome-wide data using the University of Southern California's Children's Health Study investigating asthma risk. The analysis highlights rs10519951 (P = 8.5 × 10−7), a SNP lacking any evidence of association from a conventional analysis (P = 0.5).
PMCID: PMC3626055  PMID: 23334005
confounding; genetic association studies; genome-wide association studies; heterogeneity; linkage disequilibrium; population stratification
11.  Single nucleotide polymorphisms generated by genotyping by sequencing to characterize genome-wide diversity, linkage disequilibrium, and selective sweeps in cultivated watermelon 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):767.
A large single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) dataset was used to analyze genome-wide diversity in a diverse collection of watermelon cultivars representing globally cultivated, watermelon genetic diversity. The marker density required for conducting successful association mapping depends on the extent of linkage disequilibrium (LD) within a population. Use of genotyping by sequencing reveals large numbers of SNPs that in turn generate opportunities in genome-wide association mapping and marker-assisted selection, even in crops such as watermelon for which few genomic resources are available. In this paper, we used genome-wide genetic diversity to study LD, selective sweeps, and pairwise FST distributions among worldwide cultivated watermelons to track signals of domestication.
We examined 183 Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus accessions representing domesticated watermelon and generated a set of 11,485 SNP markers using genotyping by sequencing. With a diverse panel of worldwide cultivated watermelons, we identified a set of 5,254 SNPs with a minor allele frequency of ≥ 0.05, distributed across the genome. All ancestries were traced to Africa and an admixture of various ancestries constituted secondary gene pools across various continents. A sliding window analysis using pairwise FST values was used to resolve selective sweeps. We identified strong selection on chromosomes 3 and 9 that might have contributed to the domestication process. Pairwise analysis of adjacent SNPs within a chromosome as well as within a haplotype allowed us to estimate genome-wide LD decay. LD was also detected within individual genes on various chromosomes. Principal component and ancestry analyses were used to account for population structure in a genome-wide association study. We further mapped important genes for soluble solid content using a mixed linear model.
Information concerning the SNP resources, population structure, and LD developed in this study will help in identifying agronomically important candidate genes from the genomic regions underlying selection and for mapping quantitative trait loci using a genome-wide association study in sweet watermelon.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-767) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4246513  PMID: 25196513
Linkage disequilibrium; GWAS; Selective sweep; Population structure; Genotyping by sequencing; Watermelon; Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus
12.  ETHNOPRED: a novel machine learning method for accurate continental and sub-continental ancestry identification and population stratification correction 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14:61.
Population stratification is a systematic difference in allele frequencies between subpopulations. This can lead to spurious association findings in the case–control genome wide association studies (GWASs) used to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with disease-linked phenotypes. Methods such as self-declared ancestry, ancestry informative markers, genomic control, structured association, and principal component analysis are used to assess and correct population stratification but each has limitations. We provide an alternative technique to address population stratification.
We propose a novel machine learning method, ETHNOPRED, which uses the genotype and ethnicity data from the HapMap project to learn ensembles of disjoint decision trees, capable of accurately predicting an individual’s continental and sub-continental ancestry. To predict an individual’s continental ancestry, ETHNOPRED produced an ensemble of 3 decision trees involving a total of 10 SNPs, with 10-fold cross validation accuracy of 100% using HapMap II dataset. We extended this model to involve 29 disjoint decision trees over 149 SNPs, and showed that this ensemble has an accuracy of ≥ 99.9%, even if some of those 149 SNP values were missing. On an independent dataset, predominantly of Caucasian origin, our continental classifier showed 96.8% accuracy and improved genomic control’s λ from 1.22 to 1.11. We next used the HapMap III dataset to learn classifiers to distinguish European subpopulations (North-Western vs. Southern), East Asian subpopulations (Chinese vs. Japanese), African subpopulations (Eastern vs. Western), North American subpopulations (European vs. Chinese vs. African vs. Mexican vs. Indian), and Kenyan subpopulations (Luhya vs. Maasai). In these cases, ETHNOPRED produced ensembles of 3, 39, 21, 11, and 25 disjoint decision trees, respectively involving 31, 502, 526, 242 and 271 SNPs, with 10-fold cross validation accuracy of 86.5% ± 2.4%, 95.6% ± 3.9%, 95.6% ± 2.1%, 98.3% ± 2.0%, and 95.9% ± 1.5%. However, ETHNOPRED was unable to produce a classifier that can accurately distinguish Chinese in Beijing vs. Chinese in Denver.
ETHNOPRED is a novel technique for producing classifiers that can identify an individual’s continental and sub-continental heritage, based on a small number of SNPs. We show that its learned classifiers are simple, cost-efficient, accurate, transparent, flexible, fast, applicable to large scale GWASs, and robust to missing values.
PMCID: PMC3618021  PMID: 23432980
13.  The Impact of Ancestry and Common Genetic Variants on QT Interval in African Americans 
Ethnic differences in cardiac arrhythmia incidence have been reported, with a particularly high incidence of sudden cardiac death (SCD) and low incidence of atrial fibrillation in individuals of African ancestry. We tested the hypotheses that African ancestry and common genetic variants are associated with prolonged duration of cardiac repolarization, a central pathophysiological determinant of arrhythmia, as measured by the electrocardiographic QT interval.
Methods and Results
First, individual estimates of African and European ancestry were inferred from genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data in seven population-based cohorts of African Americans (n=12 097) and regressed on measured QT interval from electrocardiograms. Second, imputation was performed for 2.8 million SNPs and a genome-wide association (GWA) study of QT interval performed in ten cohorts (n=13 105). There was no evidence of association between genetic ancestry and QT interval (p=0.94). Genome-wide significant associations (p<2.5×10−8) were identified with SNPs at two loci, upstream of the genes NOS1AP (rs12143842, p=2×10−15) and ATP1B1 (rs1320976, p=2×10−10). The most significant SNP in NOS1AP was the same as the strongest SNP previously associated with QT interval in individuals of European ancestry. Low p-values (p<10−5) were observed for SNPs at several other loci previously identified in GWA studies in individuals of European ancestry, including KCNQ1, KCNH2, LITAF and PLN.
We observed no difference in duration of cardiac repolarization with global genetic indices of African ancestry. In addition, our GWA study extends the association of polymorphisms at several loci associated with repolarization in individuals of European ancestry to include African Americans.
PMCID: PMC3568265  PMID: 23166209
electrocardiography; electrophysiology; genome-wide association studies; ion channels; repolarization
14.  Variants in CXADR and F2RL1 are associated with blood pressure and obesity in African-Americans in regions identified through admixture mapping 
Journal of hypertension  2012;30(10):1970-1976.
Genetic variants in 296 genes in regions identified through admixture mapping of hypertension, BMI, and lipids were assessed for association with hypertension, blood pressure, BMI, and HDL-C.
This study identified coding SNPs identified from HapMap2 data that were located in genes on chromosomes 5, 6, 8, and 21, where ancestry association evidence for hypertension, BMI or HDL-C was identified in previous admixture mapping studies. Genotyping was performed in 1,733 unrelated African-Americans from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Family Blood Pressure Project, and gene-based association analyses were conducted for hypertension, systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), BMI, and HDL-C. A gene score based on the number of minor alleles of each SNP in a gene was created and used for gene-based regression analyses, adjusting for age, age2, sex, local marker ancestry, and BMI, as applicable. An individual’s African ancestry estimated from 2,507 ancestry-informative markers was also adjusted for to eliminate any confounding due to population stratification.
CXADR (rs437470) on chromosome 21 was associated with SBP and DBP with or without adjusting for local ancestry (p < 0.0006). F2RL1 (rs631465) on chromosome 5 was associated with BMI (p = 0.0005). Local ancestry in these regions was associated with the respective traits as well.
This study suggests that CXADR and F2RL1 likely play important roles in blood pressure and obesity variation, respectively; and these findings are consistent with other studies, so replication and functional analyses are necessary.
PMCID: PMC3575678  PMID: 22914544
Blood pressure; Obesity; African Americans; Genetic Association Studies
15.  PCA-Correlated SNPs for Structure Identification in Worldwide Human Populations 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(9):e160.
Existing methods to ascertain small sets of markers for the identification of human population structure require prior knowledge of individual ancestry. Based on Principal Components Analysis (PCA), and recent results in theoretical computer science, we present a novel algorithm that, applied on genomewide data, selects small subsets of SNPs (PCA-correlated SNPs) to reproduce the structure found by PCA on the complete dataset, without use of ancestry information. Evaluating our method on a previously described dataset (10,805 SNPs, 11 populations), we demonstrate that a very small set of PCA-correlated SNPs can be effectively employed to assign individuals to particular continents or populations, using a simple clustering algorithm. We validate our methods on the HapMap populations and achieve perfect intercontinental differentiation with 14 PCA-correlated SNPs. The Chinese and Japanese populations can be easily differentiated using less than 100 PCA-correlated SNPs ascertained after evaluating 1.7 million SNPs from HapMap. We show that, in general, structure informative SNPs are not portable across geographic regions. However, we manage to identify a general set of 50 PCA-correlated SNPs that effectively assigns individuals to one of nine different populations. Compared to analysis with the measure of informativeness, our methods, although unsupervised, achieved similar results. We proceed to demonstrate that our algorithm can be effectively used for the analysis of admixed populations without having to trace the origin of individuals. Analyzing a Puerto Rican dataset (192 individuals, 7,257 SNPs), we show that PCA-correlated SNPs can be used to successfully predict structure and ancestry proportions. We subsequently validate these SNPs for structure identification in an independent Puerto Rican dataset. The algorithm that we introduce runs in seconds and can be easily applied on large genome-wide datasets, facilitating the identification of population substructure, stratification assessment in multi-stage whole-genome association studies, and the study of demographic history in human populations.
Author Summary
Genetic markers can be used to infer population structure, a task that remains a central challenge in many areas of genetics such as population genetics, and the search for susceptibility genes for common disorders. In such settings, it is often desirable to reduce the number of markers needed for structure identification. Existing methods to identify structure informative markers demand prior knowledge of the membership of the studied individuals to predefined populations. In this paper, based on the properties of a powerful dimensionality reduction technique (Principal Components Analysis), we develop a novel algorithm that does not depend on any prior assumptions and can be used to identify a small set of structure informative markers. Our method is very fast even when applied to datasets of hundreds of individuals and millions of markers. We evaluate this method on a large dataset of 11 populations from around the world, as well as data from the HapMap project. We show that, in most cases, we can achieve 99% genotyping savings while at the same time recovering the structure of the studied populations. Finally, we show that our algorithm can also be successfully applied for the identification of structure informative markers when studying populations of complex ancestry.
PMCID: PMC1988848  PMID: 17892327
16.  Discerning the Ancestry of European Americans in Genetic Association Studies 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(1):e236.
European Americans are often treated as a homogeneous group, but in fact form a structured population due to historical immigration of diverse source populations. Discerning the ancestry of European Americans genotyped in association studies is important in order to prevent false-positive or false-negative associations due to population stratification and to identify genetic variants whose contribution to disease risk differs across European ancestries. Here, we investigate empirical patterns of population structure in European Americans, analyzing 4,198 samples from four genome-wide association studies to show that components roughly corresponding to northwest European, southeast European, and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are the main sources of European American population structure. Building on this insight, we constructed a panel of 300 validated markers that are highly informative for distinguishing these ancestries. We demonstrate that this panel of markers can be used to correct for stratification in association studies that do not generate dense genotype data.
Author Summary
Genetic association studies analyze both phenotypes (such as disease status) and genotypes (at sites of DNA variation) of a given set of individuals. The goal of association studies is to identify DNA variants that affect disease risk or other traits of interest. However, association studies can be confounded by differences in ancestry. For example, misleading results can arise if individuals selected as disease cases have different ancestry, on average, than healthy controls. Although geographic ancestry explains only a small fraction of human genetic variation, there exist genetic variants that are much more frequent in populations with particular ancestries, and such variants would falsely appear to be related to disease. In an effort to avoid these spurious results, association studies often restrict their focus to a single continental group. European Americans are one such group that is commonly studied in the United States. Here, we analyze multiple large European American datasets to show that important differences in ancestry exist even within European Americans, and that components roughly corresponding to northwest European, southeast European, and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are the major, consistent sources of variation. We provide an approach that is able to account for these ancestry differences in association studies even if only a small number of genes is studied.
PMCID: PMC2211542  PMID: 18208327
17.  Inference of human continental origin and admixture proportions using a highly discriminative ancestry informative 41-SNP panel 
Accurate determination of genetic ancestry is of high interest for many areas such as biomedical research, personal genomics and forensics. It remains an important topic in genetic association studies, as it has been shown that population stratification, if not appropriately considered, can lead to false-positive and -negative results. While large association studies typically extract ancestry information from available genome-wide SNP genotypes, many important clinical data sets on rare phenotypes and historical collections assembled before the GWAS area are in need of a feasible method (i.e., ease of genotyping, small number of markers) to infer the geographic origin and potential admixture of the study subjects. Here we report on the development, application and limitations of a small, multiplexable ancestry informative marker (AIM) panel of SNPs (or AISNP) developed specifically for this purpose.
Based on worldwide populations from the HGDP, a 41-AIM AISNP panel for multiplex application with the ABI SNPlex and a subset with 31 AIMs for the Sequenome iPLEX system were selected and found to be highly informative for inferring ancestry among the seven continental regions Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Central/South Asia, East Asia, the Americas and Oceania. The panel was found to be least informative for Eurasian populations, and additional AIMs for a higher resolution are suggested. A large reference set including over 4,000 subjects collected from 120 global populations was assembled to facilitate accurate ancestry determination. We show practical applications of this AIM panel, discuss its limitations for admixed individuals and suggest ways to incorporate ancestry information into genetic association studies.
We demonstrated the utility of a small AISNP panel specifically developed to discern global ancestry. We believe that it will find wide application because of its feasibility and potential for a wide range of applications.
PMCID: PMC3699392  PMID: 23815888
Ancestry Informative Markers; Multiplex; Global Ancestry; Population Stratification; Admixture; AISNP; AIMs
18.  Tracing Sub-Structure in the European American Population with PCA-Informative Markers 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(7):e1000114.
Genetic structure in the European American population reflects waves of migration and recent gene flow among different populations. This complex structure can introduce bias in genetic association studies. Using Principal Components Analysis (PCA), we analyze the structure of two independent European American datasets (1,521 individuals–307,315 autosomal SNPs). Individual variation lies across a continuum with some individuals showing high degrees of admixture with non-European populations, as demonstrated through joint analysis with HapMap data. The CEPH Europeans only represent a small fraction of the variation encountered in the larger European American datasets we studied. We interpret the first eigenvector of this data as correlated with ancestry, and we apply an algorithm that we have previously described to select PCA-informative markers (PCAIMs) that can reproduce this structure. Importantly, we develop a novel method that can remove redundancy from the selected SNP panels and show that we can effectively remove correlated markers, thus increasing genotyping savings. Only 150–200 PCAIMs suffice to accurately predict fine structure in European American datasets, as identified by PCA. Simulating association studies, we couple our method with a PCA-based stratification correction tool and demonstrate that a small number of PCAIMs can efficiently remove false correlations with almost no loss in power. The structure informative SNPs that we propose are an important resource for genetic association studies of European Americans. Furthermore, our redundancy removal algorithm can be applied on sets of ancestry informative markers selected with any method in order to select the most uncorrelated SNPs, and significantly decreases genotyping costs.
Author Summary
Genetic association studies search to identify disease susceptibility genes through the analysis of genetic markers such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in large numbers of cases and controls. In such settings, the existence of sub-structure in the population under study (i.e. differences in ancestry among cases and controls) may lead to spurious results. It is therefore imperative to control for this possible bias. Such biases may arise for example when studying the European American population, which consists of individuals of diverse ancestry proportions from different European countries and to some degree also from African and Native American populations. Here, we study the genetic sub-structure of the European American population, analyzing 1,521 individuals for over 300,000 SNPs across the entire genome. Applying a powerful method that is based on dimensionality reduction (Principal Components Analysis), we are able to identify 200 SNPs that successfully represent the complete dataset. Importantly, we introduce a novel method that effectively removes redundancy from any set of genetic markers, and may prove extremely useful in a variety of different research scenarios, in order to significantly reduce the cost of a study.
PMCID: PMC2537989  PMID: 18797516
19.  A genome-wide association study of serum uric acid in African Americans 
BMC Medical Genomics  2011;4:17.
Uric acid is the primary byproduct of purine metabolism. Hyperuricemia is associated with body mass index (BMI), sex, and multiple complex diseases including gout, hypertension (HTN), renal disease, and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Multiple genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in individuals of European ancestry (EA) have reported associations between serum uric acid levels (SUAL) and specific genomic loci. The purposes of this study were: 1) to replicate major signals reported in EA populations; and 2) to use the weak LD pattern in African ancestry population to better localize (fine-map) reported loci and 3) to explore the identification of novel findings cognizant of the moderate sample size.
African American (AA) participants (n = 1,017) from the Howard University Family Study were included in this study. Genotyping was performed using the Affymetrix® Genome-wide Human SNP Array 6.0. Imputation was performed using MACH and the HapMap reference panels for CEU and YRI. A total of 2,400,542 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were assessed for association with serum uric acid under the additive genetic model with adjustment for age, sex, BMI, glomerular filtration rate, HTN, T2D, and the top two principal components identified in the assessment of admixture and population stratification.
Four variants in the gene SLC2A9 achieved genome-wide significance for association with SUAL (p-values ranging from 8.88 × 10-9 to 1.38 × 10-9). Fine-mapping of the SLC2A9 signals identified a 263 kb interval of linkage disequilibrium in the HapMap CEU sample. This interval was reduced to 37 kb in our AA and the HapMap YRI samples.
The most strongly associated locus for SUAL in EA populations was also the most strongly associated locus in this AA sample. This finding provides evidence for the role of SLC2A9 in uric acid metabolism across human populations. Additionally, our findings demonstrate the utility of following-up EA populations GWAS signals in African-ancestry populations with weaker linkage disequilibrium.
PMCID: PMC3045279  PMID: 21294900
20.  Evaluating the accuracy of AIM panels at quantifying genome ancestry 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):543.
There is a growing interest among geneticists in developing panels of Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) aimed at measuring the biogeographical ancestry of individual genomes. The efficiency of these panels is commonly tested empirically by contrasting self-reported ancestry with the ancestry estimated from these panels.
Using SNP data from HapMap we carried out a simulation-based study aimed at measuring the effect of SNP coverage on the estimation of genome ancestry. For three of the main continental groups (Africans, East Asians, Europeans) ancestry was first estimated using the whole HapMap SNP database as a proxy for global genome ancestry; these estimates were subsequently compared to those obtained from pre-designed AIM panels. Panels that consider >400 AIMs capture genome ancestry reasonably well, while those containing a few dozen AIMs show a large variability in ancestry estimates. Curiously, 500-1,000 SNPs selected at random from the genome provide an unbiased estimate of genome ancestry and perform as well as any AIM panel of similar size. In simulated scenarios of population admixture, panels containing few AIMs also show important deficiencies to measure genome ancestry.
The results indicate that the ability to estimate genome ancestry is strongly dependent on the number of AIMs used, and not primarily on their individual informativeness. Caution should be taken when making individual (medical, forensic, or anthropological) inferences based on AIMs.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-543) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4101176  PMID: 24981136
Genomics; SNPs; AIMs; Ancestry
21.  Fine-Mapping in African Americans of Eight Recently Discovered Genetic Loci for Plasma Lipids: The Jackson Heart Study 
Genome-wide association studies in cohorts of European descent have identified novel genomic regions as associated with lipids, but their relevance in African Americans remains unclear.
Methods and Results
We genotyped 8 index SNPs and 488 tagging SNPs across 8 novel lipid loci in the Jackson Heart Study, a community-based cohort of 4605 African Americans. For each trait, we calculated residuals adjusted for age, sex, and global ancestry and performed multivariable linear regression to detect genotype-phenotype association with adjustment for local ancestry. To explore admixture effects, we conducted stratified analyses in individuals with a high probability of 2 African ancestral alleles or at least 1 European allele at each locus. We confirmed 2 index SNPs as associated with lipid traits in African Americans, with suggestive association for 3 more. However, the effect sizes for 4 of the 5 associated SNPs were larger in the European local ancestry subgroup compared to the African local ancestry subgroup, suggesting that the replication is driven by European ancestry segments. Through fine-mapping, we discovered 3 new SNPs with significant associations, two with consistent effect on triglyceride levels across ancestral groups: rs636523 near DOCK7/ANGPTL3 and rs780093 in GCKR. African LD patterns did not assist in narrowing association signals.
We confirm that 5 genetic regions associated with lipid traits in European-derived populations are relevant in African Americans. To further evaluate these loci, fine-mapping in larger African American cohorts and/or resequencing will be required.
PMCID: PMC3074173  PMID: 20570916
lipids; genetics; epidemiology; risk factors
22.  European American Stratification in Ovarian Cancer Case Control Data: The Utility of Genome-Wide Data for Inferring Ancestry 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e35235.
We investigated the ability of several principal components analysis (PCA)-based strategies to detect and control for population stratification using data from a multi-center study of epithelial ovarian cancer among women of European-American ethnicity. These include a correction based on an ancestry informative markers (AIMs) panel designed to capture European ancestral variation and corrections utilizing un-thinned genome-wide SNP data; case-control samples were drawn from four geographically distinct North-American sites. The AIMs-only and genome-wide first principal components (PC1) both corresponded to the previously described North or Northwest-Southeast axis of European variation. We found that the genome-wide PCA captured this primary dimension of variation more precisely and identified additional axes of genome-wide variation of relevance to epithelial ovarian cancer. Associations evident between the genome-wide PCs and study site corroborate North American immigration history and suggest that undiscovered dimensions of variation lie within Northern Europe. The structure captured by the genome-wide PCA was also found within control individuals and did not reflect the case-control variation present in the data. The genome-wide PCA highlighted three regions of local LD, corresponding to the lactase (LCT) gene on chromosome 2, the human leukocyte antigen system (HLA) on chromosome 6 and to a common inversion polymorphism on chromosome 8. These features did not compromise the efficacy of PCs from this analysis for ancestry control. This study concludes that although AIMs panels are a cost-effective way of capturing population structure, genome-wide data should preferably be used when available.
PMCID: PMC3348917  PMID: 22590501
23.  Genomic variation associated with mortality among adults of European and African ancestry with heart failure: the CHARGE Consortium 
Prognosis and survival are significant concerns for individuals with heart failure (HF). In order to better understand the pathophysiology of HF prognosis, the association between 2,366,858 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and all-cause mortality was evaluated among individuals with incident HF from four community-based prospective cohorts: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, the Cardiovascular Health Study, the Framingham Heart Study, and the Rotterdam Study.
Methods and Results
Participants were 2,526 individuals of European ancestry and 466 individuals of African ancestry who suffered an incident HF event during follow-up in the respective cohorts. Within each study, the association between genetic variants and time to mortality among individuals with HF was assessed by Cox proportional hazards models that included adjustment for sex and age at the time of the HF event. Prospective fixed-effect meta-analyses were conducted for the four study populations of European ancestry (N=1,645 deaths) and for the two populations of African ancestry (N=281 deaths). Genome-wide significance was set at P=5.0×10-7. Meta-analytic findings among individuals of European ancestry revealed one genome-wide significant locus on chromosome 3p22 in an intron of CKLF-like MARVEL transmembrane domain containing 7 (CMTM7, p = 3.2×10-7). Eight additional loci in individuals of European ancestry and four loci in individuals of African ancestry were identified by high-signal SNPs (p < 1.0×10-5), but did not meet genome-wide significance.
This study identified a novel locus associated with all-cause mortality among individuals of European ancestry with HF. This finding warrants additional investigation, including replication, in other studies of HF.
PMCID: PMC3033765  PMID: 20400778
heart failure; all-cause mortality; genetics; genome-wide variation
24.  Analysis of Latino populations from GALA and MEC studies reveals genomic loci with biased local ancestry estimation 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(11):1407-1415.
Motivation: Local ancestry analysis of genotype data from recently admixed populations (e.g. Latinos, African Americans) provides key insights into population history and disease genetics. Although methods for local ancestry inference have been extensively validated in simulations (under many unrealistic assumptions), no empirical study of local ancestry accuracy in Latinos exists to date. Hence, interpreting findings that rely on local ancestry in Latinos is challenging.
Results: Here, we use 489 nuclear families from the mainland USA, Puerto Rico and Mexico in conjunction with 3204 unrelated Latinos from the Multiethnic Cohort study to provide the first empirical characterization of local ancestry inference accuracy in Latinos. Our approach for identifying errors does not rely on simulations but on the observation that local ancestry in families follows Mendelian inheritance. We measure the rate of local ancestry assignments that lead to Mendelian inconsistencies in local ancestry in trios (MILANC), which provides a lower bound on errors in the local ancestry estimates. We show that MILANC rates observed in simulations underestimate the rate observed in real data, and that MILANC varies substantially across the genome. Second, across a wide range of methods, we observe that loci with large deviations in local ancestry also show enrichment in MILANC rates. Therefore, local ancestry estimates at such loci should be interpreted with caution. Finally, we reconstruct ancestral haplotype panels to be used as reference panels in local ancestry inference and show that ancestry inference is significantly improved by incoroprating these reference panels.
Availability and implementation: We provide the reconstructed reference panels together with the maps of MILANC rates as a public resource for researchers analyzing local ancestry in Latinos at
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3661056  PMID: 23572411
25.  Improved ancestry inference using weights from external reference panels 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(11):1399-1406.
Motivation: Inference of ancestry using genetic data is motivated by applications in genetic association studies, population genetics and personal genomics. Here, we provide methods and software for improved ancestry inference using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) weights from external reference panels. This approach makes it possible to leverage the rich ancestry information that is available from large external reference panels, without the administrative and computational complexities of re-analyzing the raw genotype data from the reference panel in subsequent studies.
Results: We extensively validate our approach in multiple African American, Latino American and European American datasets, making use of genome-wide SNP weights derived from large reference panels, including HapMap 3 populations and 6546 European Americans from the Framingham Heart Study. We show empirically that our approach provides much greater accuracy than either the prevailing ancestry-informative marker (AIM) approach or the analysis of genome-wide target genotypes without a reference panel. For example, in an independent set of 1636 European American genome-wide association study samples, we attained prediction accuracy (R2) of 1.000 and 0.994 for the first two principal components using our method, compared with 0.418 and 0.407 using 150 published AIMs or 0.955 and 0.003 by applying principal component analysis directly to the target samples. We finally show that the higher accuracy in inferring ancestry using our method leads to more effective correction for population stratification in association studies.
Availability: The SNPweights software is available online at
Contact: or
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3661048  PMID: 23539302

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