There is growing evidence that much more of the genome than previously thought is required to explain the heritability of complex phenotypes. Recent studies have demonstrated that numerous common variants from across the genome explain portions of genetic variability, spawning various avenues of research directed at explaining the remaining heritability. This polygenic structure is also the motivation for the growing application of pathway and gene set enrichment techniques, which have yielded promising results. These findings suggest that the coordination of genes in pathways that are known to occur at the gene regulatory level also can be detected at the population level. Although genes in these networks interact in complex ways, most population studies have focused on the additive contribution of common variants and the potential of rare variants to explain additional variation. In this brief review, we discuss the potential to explain additional genetic variation through the agglomeration of multiple gene-gene interactions as well as main effects of common variants in terms of a network paradigm. Just as is the case for single-locus contributions, we expect each gene-gene interaction edge in the network to have a small effect, but these effects may be reinforced through hubs and other connectivity structures in the network. We discuss some of the opportunities and challenges of network methods for analyzing genome-wide association studies (GWAS) such as the study of hubs and motifs, and integrating other types of variation and environmental interactions. Such network approaches may unveil hidden variation in GWAS, improve understanding of mechanisms of disease, and possibly fit into a network paradigm of evolutionary genetics.
Keywords: epistasis network; genetic association interaction network; missing heritability.