Department of Health Sciences Research, Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN, USA.
Aggregating information across multiple variants in a gene or region can improve power for rare variant association testing. Power is maximized when the aggregation region contains many causal variants and few neutral variants. In this paper, we present a method for the localization of the association signal in a region using a sliding-window based approach to rare variant association testing in a region. We first introduce a novel method for analysis of rare variants, the Difference in Minor Allele Frequency test (DMAF), which allows combined analysis of common and rare variants, and makes no assumptions about the direction of effects. In whole-region analyses of simulated data with risk and protective variants, DMAF and other methods which pool data across individuals were found to outperform methods which pool data across variants. We then implement a sliding-window version of DMAF, using a step-down permutation approach to control type I error with the testing of multiple windows. In simulations, the sliding-window DMAF improved power to detect a causal sub-region, compared to applying DMAF to the whole region. Sliding-window DMAF was also effective in localizing the causal sub-region. We also applied the DMAF sliding-window approach to test for an association between response to the drug gemcitabine and variants in the gene FKBP5 sequenced in 91 lymphoblastoid cell lines derived from white non-Hispanic individuals. The application of the sliding-window test procedure detected an association in a sub-region spanning an exon and two introns, when rare and common variants were analyzed together.