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Am J Hum Genet. 2008 Apr;82(4):849-58. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2008.01.018.

On the replication of genetic associations: timing can be everything!

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  • 1SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA.


The failure of researchers to replicate genetic-association findings is most commonly attributed to insufficient statistical power, population stratification, or various forms of between-study heterogeneity or environmental influences.(1) Here, we illustrate another potential cause for nonreplications that has so far not received much attention in the literature. We illustrate that the strength of a genetic effect can vary by age, causing "age-varying associations." If not taken into account during the design and the analysis of a study, age-varying genetic associations can cause nonreplication. By using the 100K SNP scan of the Framingham Heart Study, we identified an age-varying association between a SNP in ROBO1 and obesity and hypothesized an age-gene interaction. This finding was followed up in eight independent samples comprising 13,584 individuals. The association was replicated in five of the eight studies, showing an age-dependent relationship (one-sided combined p = 3.92 x 10(-9), combined p value from pediatric cohorts = 2.21 x 10(-8), combined p value from adult cohorts = 0.00422). Furthermore, this study illustrates that it is difficult for cross-sectional study designs to detect age-varying associations. If the specifics of age- or time-varying genetic effects are not considered in the selection of both the follow-up samples and in the statistical analysis, important genetic associations may be missed.

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