Background: The Bayesian shrinkage technique has been applied to multiple quantitative trait loci (QTLs) mapping to estimate the genetic effects of QTLs on quantitative traits from a very large set of possible effects including the main and epistatic effects of QTLs. Although the recently developed empirical Bayes (EB) method significantly reduced computation comparing with the fully Bayesian approach, its speed and accuracy are limited by the fact that numerical optimization is required to estimate the variance components in the QTL model.
Results: We developed a fast empirical Bayesian LASSO (EBLASSO) method for multiple QTL mapping. The fact that the EBLASSO can estimate the variance components in a closed form along with other algorithmic techniques render the EBLASSO method more efficient and accurate. Comparing with the EB method, our simulation study demonstrated that the EBLASSO method could substantially improve the computational speed and detect more QTL effects without increasing the false positive rate. Particularly, the EBLASSO algorithm running on a personal computer could easily handle a linear QTL model with more than 100,000 variables in our simulation study. Real data analysis also demonstrated that the EBLASSO method detected more reasonable effects than the EB method. Comparing with the LASSO, our simulation showed that the current version of the EBLASSO implemented in Matlab had similar speed as the LASSO implemented in Fortran, and that the EBLASSO detected the same number of true effects as the LASSO but a much smaller number of false positive effects.
Conclusions: The EBLASSO method can handle a large number of effects possibly including both the main and epistatic QTL effects, environmental effects and the effects of gene-environment interactions. It will be a very useful tool for multiple QTL mapping.