Bayesian LASSO, scale space and decision making in association genetics

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 9;10(4):e0120017. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120017. eCollection 2015.


Background: LASSO is a penalized regression method that facilitates model fitting in situations where there are as many, or even more explanatory variables than observations, and only a few variables are relevant in explaining the data. We focus on the Bayesian version of LASSO and consider four problems that need special attention: (i) controlling false positives, (ii) multiple comparisons, (iii) collinearity among explanatory variables, and (iv) the choice of the tuning parameter that controls the amount of shrinkage and the sparsity of the estimates. The particular application considered is association genetics, where LASSO regression can be used to find links between chromosome locations and phenotypic traits in a biological organism. However, the proposed techniques are relevant also in other contexts where LASSO is used for variable selection.

Results: We separate the true associations from false positives using the posterior distribution of the effects (regression coefficients) provided by Bayesian LASSO. We propose to solve the multiple comparisons problem by using simultaneous inference based on the joint posterior distribution of the effects. Bayesian LASSO also tends to distribute an effect among collinear variables, making detection of an association difficult. We propose to solve this problem by considering not only individual effects but also their functionals (i.e. sums and differences). Finally, whereas in Bayesian LASSO the tuning parameter is often regarded as a random variable, we adopt a scale space view and consider a whole range of fixed tuning parameters, instead. The effect estimates and the associated inference are considered for all tuning parameters in the selected range and the results are visualized with color maps that provide useful insights into data and the association problem considered. The methods are illustrated using two sets of artificial data and one real data set, all representing typical settings in association genetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Decision Making
  • Genetics*
  • Hordeum / genetics
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Regression Analysis
  • Triticum / genetics

Grant support

Funding for the research was provided by the Academy of Finland grant no. 250862 ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.