Relationships between estimated autozygosity and complex traits in the UK Biobank

PLoS Genet. 2018 Jul 27;14(7):e1007556. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007556. eCollection 2018 Jul.


Inbreeding increases the risk of certain Mendelian disorders in humans but may also reduce fitness through its effects on complex traits and diseases. Such inbreeding depression is thought to occur due to increased homozygosity at causal variants that are recessive with respect to fitness. Until recently it has been difficult to amass large enough sample sizes to investigate the effects of inbreeding depression on complex traits using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data in population-based samples. Further, it is difficult to infer causation in analyses that relate degree of inbreeding to complex traits because confounding variables (e.g., education) may influence both the likelihood for parents to outbreed and offspring trait values. The present study used runs of homozygosity in genome-wide SNP data in up to 400,000 individuals in the UK Biobank to estimate the proportion of the autosome that exists in autozygous tracts-stretches of the genome which are identical due to a shared common ancestor. After multiple testing corrections and controlling for possible sociodemographic confounders, we found significant relationships in the predicted direction between estimated autozygosity and three of the 26 traits we investigated: age at first sexual intercourse, fluid intelligence, and forced expiratory volume in 1 second. Our findings corroborate those of several published studies. These results may imply that these traits have been associated with Darwinian fitness over evolutionary time. However, some of the autozygosity-trait relationships were attenuated after controlling for background sociodemographic characteristics, suggesting that alternative explanations for these associations have not been eliminated. Care needs to be taken in the design and interpretation of ROH studies in order to glean reliable information about the genetic architecture and evolutionary history of complex traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biological Specimen Banks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Consanguinity*
  • Female
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Genotyping Techniques
  • Homozygote*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • United Kingdom