Association testing of bisulfite-sequencing methylation data via a Laplace approximation

Omer Weissbrod*, Elior Rahmani, Regev Schweiger, Saharon Rosset, Eran Halperin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Motivation: Epigenome-wide association studies can provide novel insights into the regulation of genes involved in traits and diseases. The rapid emergence of bisulfite-sequencing technologies enables performing such genome-wide studies at the resolution of single nucleotides. However, analysis of data produced by bisulfite-sequencing poses statistical challenges owing to low and uneven sequencing depth, as well as the presence of confounding factors. The recently introduced Mixed model Association for Count data via data AUgmentation (MACAU) can address these challenges via a generalized linear mixed model when confounding can be encoded via a single variance component. However, MACAU cannot be used in the presence of multiple variance components. Additionally, MACAU uses a computationally expensive Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) procedure, which cannot directly approximate the model likelihood. Results: We present a new method, Mixed model Association via a Laplace ApproXimation (MALAX), that is more computationally efficient than MACAU and allows to model multiple variance components. MALAX uses a Laplace approximation rather than MCMC based approximations, which enables to directly approximate the model likelihood. Through an extensive analysis of simulated and real data, we demonstrate that MALAX successfully addresses statistical challenges introduced by bisulfite-sequencing while controlling for complex sources of confounding, and can be over 50% faster than the state of the art.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)i325-i332
Issue number14
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2017


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