Genomic deletions have long been known to play a causative role in microdeletion syndromes. Recent whole-genome genetic studies have shown that deletions can increase the risk for several psychiatric disorders, suggesting that genomic deletions play an important role in the genetic basis of complex traits. However, the association between genomic deletions and common, complex diseases has not yet been systematically investigated in gene mapping studies. Likelihood-based statistical methods for identifying disease-associated deletions have recently been developed for familial studies of parent-offspring trios. The purpose of this study is to develop statistical approaches for detecting genomic deletions associated with complex disease in case - control studies. Our methods are designed to be used with dense single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotypes to detect deletions in large-scale or whole-genome genetic studies. As more and more SNP genotype data for genome-wide association studies become available, development of sophisticated statistical approaches will be needed that use these data. Our proposed statistical methods are designed to be used in SNP-by-SNP analyses and in cluster analyses based on combined evidence from multiple SNPs. We found that these methods are useful for detecting disease-associated deletions and are robust in the presence of linkage disequilibrium using simulated SNP data sets. Furthermore, we applied the proposed statistical methods to SNP genotype data of chromosome 6p for 868 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 1,197 controls from the North American Rheumatoid Arthritis Consortium. We detected disease-associated deletions within the region of human leukocyte antigen in which genomic deletions were previously discovered in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
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