Statistical methods for testing X chromosome variant associations: application to sex-specific characteristics of bipolar disorder

Biol Sex Differ. 2019 Dec 9;10(1):57. doi: 10.1186/s13293-019-0272-4.


Background: Bipolar disorder (BD) affects both sexes, but important sex differences exist with respect to its symptoms and comorbidities. For example, rapid cycling (RC) is more prevalent in females, and alcohol use disorder (AUD) is more prevalent in males. We hypothesize that X chromosome variants may be associated with sex-specific characteristics of BD. Few studies have explored the role of the X chromosome in BD, which is complicated by X chromosome inactivation (XCI). This process achieves "dosage compensation" for many X chromosome genes by silencing one of the two copies in females, and most statistical methods either ignore that XCI occurs or falsely assume that one copy is inactivated at all loci. We introduce new statistical methods that do not make these assumptions.

Methods: We investigated this hypothesis in 1001 BD patients from the Genetic Association Information Network (GAIN) and 957 BD patients from the Mayo Clinic Bipolar Disorder Biobank. We examined the association of over 14,000 X chromosome single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with sex-associated BD traits using two statistical approaches that account for whether a SNP may be undergoing or escaping XCI. In the "XCI-informed approach," we fit a sex-adjusted logistic regression model assuming additive genetic effects where we coded the SNP either assuming one copy is expressed or two copies are expressed based on prior knowledge about which regions are inactivated. In the "XCI-robust approach," we fit a logistic regression model with sex, SNP, and SNP-sex interaction effects that is flexible to whether the region is inactivated or escaping XCI.

Results: Using the "XCI-informed approach," which considers only the main effect of SNP and does not allow the SNP effect to differ by sex, no significant associations were identified for any of the phenotypes. Using the "XCI-robust approach," intergenic SNP rs5932307 was associated with BD (P = 8.3 × 10-8), with a stronger effect in females (odds ratio in males (ORM) = 1.13, odds ratio in females for a change of two allele copies (ORW2) = 3.86).

Conclusion: X chromosome association studies should employ methods which account for its unique biology. Future work is needed to validate the identified associations with BD, to formally assess the performance of both approaches under different true genetic architectures, and to apply these approaches to study sex differences in other conditions.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorder; Binge eating; Bipolar disorder; Genetic association; Rapid cycling; Sex differences; Suicidality; X chromosome; X chromosome inactivation; X chromosome statistical analysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Human, X*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Sex Characteristics*