Mining High-Level Imaging Genetic Associations via Clustering AD Candidate Variants with Similar Brain Association Patterns

Brain imaging genetics examines associations between imaging quantitative traits (QTs) and genetic factors such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to provide important insights into the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The individual level SNP-QT signals are high dimensional and typically have small effect sizes, making them hard to be detected and replicated. To overcome this limitation, this work proposes a new approach that identifies high-level imaging genetic associations through applying multigraph clustering to the SNP-QT association maps. Given an SNP set and a brain QT set, the association between each SNP and each QT is evaluated using a linear regression model. Based on the resulting SNP-QT association map, five SNP-SNP similarity networks (or graphs) are created using five different scoring functions, respectively. Multigraph clustering is applied to these networks to identify SNP clusters with similar association patterns with all the brain QTs. After that, functional annotation is performed for each identified SNP cluster and its corresponding brain association pattern. We applied this pipeline to an AD imaging genetic study, which yielded promising results. For example, in an association study between 54 AD SNPs and 116 amyloid QTs, we identified two SNP clusters with one responsible for amyloid beta clearances and the other regulating amyloid beta formation. These high-level findings have the potential to provide valuable insights into relevant genetic pathways and brain circuits, which can help form new hypotheses for more detailed imaging and genetics studies in independent cohorts.