Detecting genetic effects on phenotype variability to capture gene-by-environment interactions: a systematic method comparison

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Genetically associated phenotypic variability has been widely observed across organisms and traits, including in humans. Both gene-gene and gene-environment interactions can lead to an increase in genetically associated phenotypic variability. Therefore, detecting the underlying genetic variants, or variance Quantitative Trait Loci (vQTLs), can provide novel insights into complex traits. Established approaches to detect vQTLs apply different methodologies from variance-only approaches to mean-variance joint tests, but a comprehensive comparison of these methods is lacking. Here, we review available methods to detect vQTLs in humans, carry out a simulation study to assess their performance under different biological scenarios of gene-environment interactions and apply the optimal approaches for vQTL identification to gene expression data. Overall, with a minor allele frequency (MAF) of less than 0.2, the squared residual value linear model (SVLM) and the deviation regression model (DRM) are optimal when the data follow Normal and non-Normal distributions, respectively. In addition, the Brown–Forsythe (BF) test is one of the optimal methods when the MAF is 0.2 or larger, irrespective of phenotype distribution. Additionally, a larger sample size and more balanced sample distribution in different exposure categories increase the power of BF, SVLM and DRM. Our results highlight vQTL detection methods that perform optimally under realistic simulation settings and show that their relative performance depends on the phenotype distribution, allele frequency, sample size, and the type of exposure in the interaction model underlying the vQTL.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberjkae022
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2024


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