Haplotypes provide a more informative format of polymorphisms for genetic association analysis than do individual single-nucleotide polymorphisms. However, the practical efficacy of haplotype-based association analysis is challenged by a trade-off between the benefits of modeling abundant variation and the cost of the extra degrees of freedom. To reduce the degrees of freedom, several strategies have been considered in the literature. They include (1) clustering evolutionarily close haplotypes, (2) modeling the level of haplotype sharing, and (3) smoothing haplotype effects by introducing a correlation structure for haplotype effects and studying the variance components (VC) for association. Although the first two strategies enjoy a fair extent of power gain, empirical evidence showed that VC methods may exhibit only similar or less power than the standard haplotype regression method, even in cases of many haplotypes. In this study, we report possible reasons that cause the underpowered phenomenon and show how the power of the VC strategy can be improved. We construct a score test based on the restricted maximum likelihood or the marginal likelihood function of the VC and identify its nontypical limiting distribution. Through simulation, we demonstrate the validity of the test and investigate the power performance of the VC approach and that of the standard haplotype regression approach. With suitable choices for the correlation structure, the proposed method can be directly applied to unphased genotypic data. Our method is applicable to a wide-ranging class of models and is computationally efficient and easy to implement. The broad coverage and the fast and easy implementation of this method make the VC strategy an effective tool for haplotype analysis, even in modern genomewide association studies.
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