Dark matter: are mice the solution to missing heritability?

Front Genet. 2011 Jun 13;2:32. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2011.00032. eCollection 2011.


Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in humans have identified hundreds of single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with complex traits, yet for most traits studied, the sum total of all these identified variants fail to explain a significant portion of the heritable variation. Reasons for this "missing heritability" are thought to include the existence of rare causative variants not captured by current genotyping arrays, structural variants that go undetected by existing technology, insufficient power to identify multi-gene interactions, small sample sizes, and the influence of environmental and epigenetic effects. As genotyping technologies have evolved it has become inexpensive and relatively straightforward to perform GWAS in mice. Mice offer a powerful tool for elucidating the genetic architecture of behavioral and physiological traits, and are complementary to human studies. Unlike F(2) crosses of inbred strains, advanced intercross lines, heterogeneous stocks, outbred, and wild-caught mice have more rapid breakdown of linkage disequilibrium which allow for increasingly high resolution mapping. Because some of these populations are created using a small number of founder chromosomes they are not expected to harbor rare alleles. We discuss the differences between these mouse populations and examine their potential to overcome some of the pitfalls that have plagued human GWAS studies.

Keywords: GWAS; advanced intercross lines; complex traits; forward genetics; heterogeneous stock; outbred mice; quantitative trait loci; wild mice.