Combinatorial and statistical prediction of gene expression from haplotype sequence

Bioinformatics. 2020 Jul 1;36(Suppl_1):i194-i202. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btaa318.


Motivation: Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have discovered thousands of significant genetic effects on disease phenotypes. By considering gene expression as the intermediary between genotype and disease phenotype, expression quantitative trait loci studies have interpreted many of these variants by their regulatory effects on gene expression. However, there remains a considerable gap between genotype-to-gene expression association and genotype-to-gene expression prediction. Accurate prediction of gene expression enables gene-based association studies to be performed post hoc for existing GWAS, reduces multiple testing burden, and can prioritize genes for subsequent experimental investigation.

Results: In this work, we develop gene expression prediction methods that relax the independence and additivity assumptions between genetic markers. First, we consider gene expression prediction from a regression perspective and develop the HAPLEXR algorithm which combines haplotype clusterings with allelic dosages. Second, we introduce the new gene expression classification problem, which focuses on identifying expression groups rather than continuous measurements; we formalize the selection of an appropriate number of expression groups using the principle of maximum entropy. Third, we develop the HAPLEXD algorithm that models haplotype sharing with a modified suffix tree data structure and computes expression groups by spectral clustering. In both models, we penalize model complexity by prioritizing genetic clusters that indicate significant effects on expression. We compare HAPLEXR and HAPLEXD with three state-of-the-art expression prediction methods and two novel logistic regression approaches across five GTEx v8 tissues. HAPLEXD exhibits significantly higher classification accuracy overall; HAPLEXR shows higher prediction accuracy on approximately half of the genes tested and the largest number of best predicted genes (r2>0.1) among all methods. We show that variant and haplotype features selected by HAPLEXR are smaller in size than competing methods (and thus more interpretable) and are significantly enriched in functional annotations related to gene regulation. These results demonstrate the importance of explicitly modeling non-dosage dependent and intragenic epistatic effects when predicting expression.

Availability and implementation: Source code and binaries are freely available at

Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Haplotypes
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci