Knowledge-driven binning approach for rare variant association analysis: application to neuroimaging biomarkers in Alzheimer's disease

BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2017 May 18;17(Suppl 1):61. doi: 10.1186/s12911-017-0454-0.


Background: Rapid advancement of next generation sequencing technologies such as whole genome sequencing (WGS) has facilitated the search for genetic factors that influence disease risk in the field of human genetics. To identify rare variants associated with human diseases or traits, an efficient genome-wide binning approach is needed. In this study we developed a novel biological knowledge-based binning approach for rare-variant association analysis and then applied the approach to structural neuroimaging endophenotypes related to late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD).

Methods: For rare-variant analysis, we used the knowledge-driven binning approach implemented in Bin-KAT, an automated tool, that provides 1) binning/collapsing methods for multi-level variant aggregation with a flexible, biologically informed binning strategy and 2) an option of performing unified collapsing and statistical rare variant analyses in one tool. A total of 750 non-Hispanic Caucasian participants from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) cohort who had both WGS data and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were used in this study. Mean bilateral cortical thickness of the entorhinal cortex extracted from MRI scans was used as an AD-related neuroimaging endophenotype. SKAT was used for a genome-wide gene- and region-based association analysis of rare variants (MAF (minor allele frequency) < 0.05) and potential confounding factors (age, gender, years of education, intracranial volume (ICV) and MRI field strength) for entorhinal cortex thickness were used as covariates. Significant associations were determined using FDR adjustment for multiple comparisons.

Results: Our knowledge-driven binning approach identified 16 functional exonic rare variants in FANCC significantly associated with entorhinal cortex thickness (FDR-corrected p-value < 0.05). In addition, the approach identified 7 evolutionary conserved regions, which were mapped to FAF1, RFX7, LYPLAL1 and GOLGA3, significantly associated with entorhinal cortex thickness (FDR-corrected p-value < 0.05). In further analysis, the functional exonic rare variants in FANCC were also significantly associated with hippocampal volume and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ1-42 (p-value < 0.05).

Conclusions: Our novel binning approach identified rare variants in FANCC as well as 7 evolutionary conserved regions significantly associated with a LOAD-related neuroimaging endophenotype. FANCC (fanconi anemia complementation group C) has been shown to modulate TLR and p38 MAPK-dependent expression of IL-1β in macrophages. Our results warrant further investigation in a larger independent cohort and demonstrate that the biological knowledge-driven binning approach is a powerful strategy to identify rare variants associated with AD and other complex disease.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Imaging genomics; Rare variant analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Biomarkers
  • Data Mining / methods*
  • Exons
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Phenotype


  • Biomarkers