Accounting for Population Stratification in Practice: A Comparison of the Main Strategies Dedicated to Genome-Wide Association Studies

PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28845. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028845. Epub 2011 Dec 21.


Genome-Wide Association Studies are powerful tools to detect genetic variants associated with diseases. Their results have, however, been questioned, in part because of the bias induced by population stratification. This is a consequence of systematic differences in allele frequencies due to the difference in sample ancestries that can lead to both false positive or false negative findings. Many strategies are available to account for stratification but their performances differ, for instance according to the type of population structure, the disease susceptibility locus minor allele frequency, the degree of sampling imbalanced, or the sample size. We focus on the type of population structure and propose a comparison of the most commonly used methods to deal with stratification that are the Genomic Control, Principal Component based methods such as implemented in Eigenstrat, adjusted Regressions and Meta-Analyses strategies. Our assessment of the methods is based on a large simulation study, involving several scenarios corresponding to many types of population structures. We focused on both false positive rate and power to determine which methods perform the best. Our analysis showed that if there is no population structure, none of the tests led to a bias nor decreased the power except for the Meta-Analyses. When the population is stratified, adjusted Logistic Regressions and Eigenstrat are the best solutions to account for stratification even though only the Logistic Regressions are able to constantly maintain correct false positive rates. This study provides more details about these methods. Their advantages and limitations in different stratification scenarios are highlighted in order to propose practical guidelines to account for population stratification in Genome-Wide Association Studies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Gene Frequency
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans