Background: The investigation of complex disease heterogeneity has been challenging. Here, we introduce a network-based approach, using partial correlations, that analyzes the relationships among multiple disease-related phenotypes.
Results: We applied this method to two large, well-characterized studies of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We also examined the associations between these COPD phenotypic networks and other factors, including case-control status, disease severity, and genetic variants. Using these phenotypic networks, we have detected novel relationships between phenotypes that would not have been observed using traditional epidemiological approaches.
Conclusion: Phenotypic network analysis of complex diseases could provide novel insights into disease susceptibility, disease severity, and genetic mechanisms.