Impact of cross-ancestry genetic architecture on GWAS in admixed populations


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Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified thousands of variants for disease risk. These studies have predominantly been conducted in individuals of European ancestries, which raises questions about their transferability to individuals of other ancestries. Of particular interest are admixed populations, usually defined as populations with recent ancestry from two or more continental sources. Admixed genomes contain segments of distinct ancestries that vary in composition across individuals in the population, allowing for the same allele to induce risk for disease on different ancestral backgrounds. This mosaicism raises unique challenges for GWAS in admixed populations, such as the need to correctly adjust for population stratification to balance type I error with statistical power. In this work we quantify the impact of differences in estimated allelic effect sizes for risk variants between ancestry backgrounds on association statistics. Specifically, while the possibility of estimated allelic effect-size heterogeneity by ancestry (HetLanc) can be modeled when performing GWAS in admixed populations, the extent of HetLanc needed to overcome the penalty from an additional degree of freedom in the association statistic has not been thoroughly quantified. Using extensive simulations of admixed genotypes and phenotypes we find that modeling HetLanc in its absence reduces statistical power by up to 72%. This finding is especially pronounced in the presence of allele frequency differentiation. We replicate simulation results using 4,327 African-European admixed genomes from the UK Biobank for 12 traits to find that for most significant SNPs HetLanc is not large enough for GWAS to benefit from modeling heterogeneity. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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