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Linear Score Tests for Variance Components in Linear Mixed Models and Applications to Genetic Association Studies



Following the rapid development of genome-scale genotyping technologies, genetic association mapping has become a popular tool to detect genomic regions responsible for certain (disease) phenotypes, especially in early-phase pharmacogenomic studies with limited sample size. In response to such applications, a good association test needs to be (1) applicable to a wide range of possible genetic models, including, but not limited to, the presence of gene-by-environment or gene-by-gene interactions and non-linearity of a group of marker effects, (2) accurate in small samples, fast to compute on the genomic scale, and amenable to large scale multiple testing corrections, and (3) reasonably powerful to locate causal genomic regions. The kernel machine method represented in linear mixed models provides a viable solution by transforming the problem into testing the nullity of variance components. In this study, we consider score-based tests by choosing a statistic linear in the score function. When the model under the null hypothesis has only one error variance parameter, our test is exact in finite samples. When the null model has more than one variance parameter, we develop a new moment-based approximation that performs well in simulations. Through simulations and analysis of real data, we demonstrate that the new test possesses most of the aforementioned characteristics, especially when compared to existing quadratic score tests or restricted likelihood ratio tests.