The role of haplotypes in candidate gene studies



Human geneticists working on systems for which it is possible to make a strong case for a set of candidate genes face the problem of whether it is necessary to consider the variation in those genes as phased haplotypes, or whether the one-SNP-at-a-time approach might perform as well. There are three reasons why the phased haplotype route should be an improvement. First, the protein products of the candidate genes occur in polypeptide chains whose folding and other properties may depend on particular combinations of amino acids. Second, population genetic principles show us that variation in populations is inherently structured into haplotypes. Third, the statistical power of association tests with phased data is likely to be improved because of the reduction in dimension. However, in reality it takes a great deal of extra work to obtain valid haplotype phase information, and inferred phase information may simply compound the errors. In addition, if the causal connection between SNPs and a phenotype is truly driven by just a single SNP, then the haplotype-based approach may perform worse than the one-SNP-at-a-time approach. Here we examine some of the factors that affect haplotype patterns in genes, how haplotypes may be inferred, and how haplotypes have been useful in the context of testing association between candidate genes and complex traits. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.