On multiple-testing correction in genome-wide association studies



The interpretation of the results of large association studies encompassing much or all of the human genome faces the fundamental statistical problem that a correspondingly large number of single nucleotide polymorphisms markers will be spuriously flagged as significant. A common method of dealing with these false positives is to raise the significance level for the individual tests for association of each marker. Any such adjustment for multiple testing is ultimately based on a more or less precise estimate for the actual overall type I error probability. We estimate this probability for association tests for correlated markers and show that it depends in a nonlinear way on the significance level for the individual tests. This dependence of the effective number of tests is not taken into account by existing multiple-testing corrections, leading to widely overestimated results. We demonstrate a simple correction for multiple testing, which can easily be calculated from the pairwise correlation and gives far more realistic estimates for the effective number of tests than previous formulae. The calculation is considerably faster than with other methods and hence applicable on a genome-wide scale. The efficacy of our method is shown on a constructed example with highly correlated markers as well as on real data sets, including a full genome scan where a conservative estimate only 8% above the permutation estimate is obtained in about 1% of computation time. As the calculation is based on pairwise correlations between markers, it can be performed at the stage of study design using public databases. Genet. Epidemiol. 2008. 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.