• Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC);
  • Gibbs sampling;
  • Bayesian;
  • maximum likelihood;
  • variance components;
  • negative variances;
  • BUGS;
  • MLn;
  • genetics;
  • epidemiology;
  • genetic epidemiology;
  • Busselton Study Research Foundation


The common complex diseases such as asthma are an important focus of genetic research, and studies based on large numbers of simple pedigrees ascertained from population-based sampling frames are becoming commonplace. Many of the genetic and environmental factors causing these diseases are unknown and there is often a strong residual covariance between relatives even after all known determinants are taken into account. This must be modelled correctly whether scientific interest is focused on fixed effects, as in an association analysis, or on the covariances themselves. Analysis is straightforward for multivariate Normal phenotypes, but difficulties arise with other types of trait. Generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) offer a potentially unifying approach to analysis for many classes of phenotype including multivariate Normal traits, binary traits, and censored survival times. Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods, including Gibbs sampling, provide a convenient framework within which such models may be fitted. In this paper, Bayesian inference Using Gibbs Sampling (a generic Gibbs sampler; BUGS) is used to fit GLMMs for multivariate Normal and binary phenotypes in nuclear families. BUGS is easy to use and readily available. We motivate a suitable model structure for Normal phenotypes and show how the model extends to binary traits. We discuss parameter interpretation and statistical inference and show how to circumvent a number of important theoretical and practical problems that we encountered. Using simulated data we show that model parameters seem consistent and appear unbiased in smaller data sets. We illustrate our methods using data from an ongoing cohort study. Genet. Epidemiol. 17:118–140, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.