Principal components analysis of population admixture

PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40115. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040115. Epub 2012 Jul 9.


With the availability of high-density genotype information, principal components analysis (PCA) is now routinely used to detect and quantify the genetic structure of populations in both population genetics and genetic epidemiology. An important issue is how to make appropriate and correct inferences about population relationships from the results of PCA, especially when admixed individuals are included in the analysis. We extend our recently developed theoretical formulation of PCA to allow for admixed populations. Because the sampled individuals are treated as features, our generalized formulation of PCA directly relates the pattern of the scatter plot of the top eigenvectors to the admixture proportions and parameters reflecting the population relationships, and thus can provide valuable guidance on how to properly interpret the results of PCA in practice. Using our formulation, we theoretically justify the diagnostic of two-way admixture. More importantly, our theoretical investigations based on the proposed formulation yield a diagnostic of multi-way admixture. For instance, we found that admixed individuals with three parental populations are distributed inside the triangle formed by their parental populations and divide the triangle into three smaller triangles whose areas have the same proportions in the big triangle as the corresponding admixture proportions. We tested and illustrated these findings using simulated data and data from HapMap III and the Human Genome Diversity Project.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Gene Pool*
  • Genealogy and Heraldry
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Human Genome Project
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Principal Component Analysis*