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Latent variable models in statistical genetics

By Christopher Oldmeadow


Understanding the complexities that are involved in the genetics of multifactorial diseases is still a monumental task. In addition to environmental factors that can influence the risk of disease, there is also a number of other complicating factors. Genetic variants associated with age of disease onset may be different from those variants associated with overall risk of disease, and variants may be located in positions that are not consistent with the traditional protein coding genetic paradigm. Latent Variable Models are well suited for the analysis of genetic data. A latent variable is one that we do not directly observe, but which is believed to exist or is included for computational or analytic convenience in a model. This thesis presents a mixture of methodological developments utilising latent variables, and results from case studies in genetic epidemiology and comparative genomics. Epidemiological studies have identified a number of environmental risk factors for appendicitis, but the disease aetiology of this oft thought useless vestige remains largely a mystery. The effects of smoking on other gastrointestinal disorders are well documented, and in light of this, the thesis investigates the association between smoking and appendicitis through the use of latent variables. By utilising data from a large Australian twin study questionnaire as both cohort and case-control, evidence is found for the association between tobacco smoking and appendicitis. Twin and family studies have also found evidence for the role of heredity in the risk of appendicitis. Results from previous studies are extended here to estimate the heritability of age-at-onset and account for the eect of smoking. This thesis presents a novel approach for performing a genome-wide variance components linkage analysis on transformed residuals from a Cox regression. This method finds evidence for a dierent subset of genes responsible for variation in age at onset than those associated with overall risk of appendicitis. Motivated by increasing evidence of functional activity in regions of the genome once thought of as evolutionary graveyards, this thesis develops a generalisation to the Bayesian multiple changepoint model on aligned DNA sequences for more than two species. This sensitive technique is applied to evaluating the distributions of evolutionary rates, with the finding that they are much more complex than previously apparent. We show strong evidence for at least 9 well-resolved evolutionary rate classes in an alignment of four Drosophila species and at least 7 classes in an alignment of four mammals, including human. A pattern of enrichment and depletion of genic regions in the profiled segments suggests they are functionally significant, and most likely consist of various functional classes. Furthermore, a method of incorporating alignment characteristics representative of function such as GC content and type of mutation into the segmentation model is developed within this thesis. Evidence of fine-structured segmental variation is presented

Topics: genetics, statistical genetics, variable models
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2009
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