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Ann Hum Genet. 2011 Jan;75(1):172-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-1809.2010.00630.x.

Using biological knowledge to uncover the mystery in the search for epistasis in genome-wide association studies.

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Department of Molecular Physiology, Center for Human Genetics Research, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232-0700, USA.


The search for the missing heritability in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has become an important focus for the human genetics community. One suspected location of these genetic effects is in gene-gene interactions, or epistasis. The computational burden of exploring gene-gene interactions in the wealth of data generated in GWAS, along with small to moderate sample sizes, have led to epistasis being an afterthought, rather than a primary focus of GWAS analyses. In this review, I discuss some potential approaches to filter a GWAS dataset to a smaller, more manageable dataset where searching for epistasis is considerably more feasible. I describe a number of alternative approaches, but primarily focus on the use of prior biological knowledge from databases in the public domain to guide the search for epistasis. The manner in which prior knowledge is incorporated into a GWA study can be many and these data can be extracted from a variety of database sources. I discuss a number of these approaches and propose that a comprehensive approach will likely be most fruitful for searching for epistasis in large-scale genomic studies of the current state-of-the-art and into the future.

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