Robust Linear Models for Cis-eQTL Analysis.
Rantalainen M., Lindgren CM., Holmes CC.
Expression Quantitative Trait Loci (eQTL) analysis enables characterisation of functional genetic variation influencing expression levels of individual genes. In outbread populations, including humans, eQTLs are commonly analysed using the conventional linear model, adjusting for relevant covariates, assuming an allelic dosage model and a Gaussian error term. However, gene expression data generally have noise that induces heavy-tailed errors relative to the Gaussian distribution and often include atypical observations, or outliers. Such departures from modelling assumptions can lead to an increased rate of type II errors (false negatives), and to some extent also type I errors (false positives). Careful model checking can reduce the risk of type-I errors but often not type II errors, since it is generally too time-consuming to carefully check all models with a non-significant effect in large-scale and genome-wide studies. Here we propose the application of a robust linear model for eQTL analysis to reduce adverse effects of deviations from the assumption of Gaussian residuals. We present results from a simulation study as well as results from the analysis of real eQTL data sets. Our findings suggest that in many situations robust models have the potential to provide more reliable eQTL results compared to conventional linear models, particularly in respect to reducing type II errors due to non-Gaussian noise. Post-genomic data, such as that generated in genome-wide eQTL studies, are often noisy and frequently contain atypical observations. Robust statistical models have the potential to provide more reliable results and increased statistical power under non-Gaussian conditions. The results presented here suggest that robust models should be considered routinely alongside other commonly used methodologies for eQTL analysis.