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Int J Epidemiol. 2015 Aug;44(4):1429-1441. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyv041. Epub 2015 May 13.

Power and sample size estimation for epigenome-wide association scans to detect differential DNA methylation.

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Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London, London, UK.
Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London, London, UK



Epigenome-wide association scans (EWAS) are under way for many complex human traits, but EWAS power has not been fully assessed. We investigate power of EWAS to detect differential methylation using case-control and disease-discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin designs with genome-wide DNA methylation arrays.


We performed simulations to estimate power under the case-control and discordant MZ twin EWAS study designs, under a range of epigenetic risk effect sizes and conditions. For example, to detect a 10% mean methylation difference between affected and unaffected subjects at a genome-wide significance threshold of P = 1 × 10-6, 98 MZ twin pairs were required to reach 80% EWAS power, and 112 cases and 112 controls pairs were needed in the case-control design. We also estimated the minimum sample size required to reach 80% EWAS power under both study designs. Our analyses highlighted several factors that significantly influenced EWAS power, including sample size, epigenetic risk effect size, the variance of DNA methylation at the locus of interest and the correlation in DNA methylation patterns within the twin sample.


We provide power estimates for array-based DNA methylation EWAS under case-control and disease-discordant MZ twin designs, and explore multiple factors that impact on EWAS power. Our results can help guide EWAS experimental design and interpretation for future epigenetic studies.


DNA methylation; EWAS; epigenome-wide; power

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