Efficient Variant Set Mixed Model Association Tests for Continuous and Binary Traits in Large-Scale Whole-Genome Sequencing Studies

Am J Hum Genet. 2019 Feb 7;104(2):260-274. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2018.12.012. Epub 2019 Jan 10.


With advances in whole-genome sequencing (WGS) technology, more advanced statistical methods for testing genetic association with rare variants are being developed. Methods in which variants are grouped for analysis are also known as variant-set, gene-based, and aggregate unit tests. The burden test and sequence kernel association test (SKAT) are two widely used variant-set tests, which were originally developed for samples of unrelated individuals and later have been extended to family data with known pedigree structures. However, computationally efficient and powerful variant-set tests are needed to make analyses tractable in large-scale WGS studies with complex study samples. In this paper, we propose the variant-set mixed model association tests (SMMAT) for continuous and binary traits using the generalized linear mixed model framework. These tests can be applied to large-scale WGS studies involving samples with population structure and relatedness, such as in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program. SMMATs share the same null model for different variant sets, and a virtue of this null model, which includes covariates only, is that it needs to be fit only once for all tests in each genome-wide analysis. Simulation studies show that all the proposed SMMATs correctly control type I error rates for both continuous and binary traits in the presence of population structure and relatedness. We also illustrate our tests in a real data example of analysis of plasma fibrinogen levels in the TOPMed program (n = 23,763), using the Analysis Commons, a cloud-based computing platform.

Keywords: TOPMed; generalized linear mixed model; population structure; rare variants; relatedness; variant set association test; whole-genome sequencing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 4 / genetics
  • Cloud Computing
  • Female
  • Fibrinogen / analysis
  • Fibrinogen / genetics
  • Genetic Association Studies*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic*
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (U.S.)
  • Precision Medicine
  • Research Design
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Whole Genome Sequencing*


  • Fibrinogen