Studies of the genetic basis of complex traits have demonstrated a substantial role for common, small-effect variant polygenic burden (PB) as well as large-effect variants (LEV, primarily rare). We identify sufficient conditions in which GWAS-derived PB may be used for well-powered rare pathogenic variant discovery or as a sample prioritization tool for whole-genome or exome sequencing. Through extensive simulations of genetic architectures and generative models of disease liability with parameters informed by empirical data, we quantify the power to detect, among cases, a lower PB in LEV carriers than in non-carriers. Furthermore, we uncover clinically useful conditions wherein the risk derived from the PB is comparable to the LEV-derived risk. The resulting summary-statistics-based methodology (with publicly available software, PB-LEV-SCAN) makes predictions on PB-based LEV screening for 36 complex traits, which we confirm in several disease datasets with available LEV information in the UK Biobank, with important implications on clinical decision-making.
© 2021. The Author(s).