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Construction and Functional Analysis of Human Genetic Interaction Networks with Genome-wide Association Data

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Genetic interaction measures how different genes collectively contribute to a phenotype, and can reveal functional compensation and buffering between pathways under genetic perturbations. Recently, genome-wide screening for genetic interactions has revealed genetic interaction networks that provide novel insights either when analyzed by themselves or when integrated with other functional genomic datasets. For higher eukaryotes such as human, the above reverse-genetics approaches are not straightforward since the phenotypes of interest for higher eukaryotes are difficult to study in a cell based assay. We propose a general framework for constructing and analyzing human genetic interaction networks from genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data used for case-control studies on complex diseases. Specifically, the approach contains three major steps: (1) estimating SNP-SNP genetic interactions, (2) identifying linkage disequilibrium (LD) blocks and mapping SNP-SNP interactions to block-block interactions, and (3) functional mapping for LD blocks. We performed two sets of functional analyses for each of the six datasets used in the paper, and demonstrated that (i) the constructed genetic interaction networks are supported by functional evidence from independent biological databases, and (ii) the network can be used to discover pairs of compensatory gene modules (between-pathway models) in their joint association with a disease phenotype. The proposed framework should provide novel insights beyond existing approaches that either ignore interactions between SNPs or model different SNP-SNP pairs with genetic interactions separately. Furthermore, our study provides evidence that some of the core properties of genetic interaction networks based on reverse genetics in model organisms like yeast are also present in genetic interactions revealed by natural variation in human populations.

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