RL-SKAT: An exact and efficient score test for heritability and set tests

Regev Schweiger*, Omer Weissbrod, Elior Rahmani, Martina Müller-Nurasyid, Sonja Kunze, Christian Gieger, Melanie Waldenberger, Saharon Rosset, Eran Halperin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Testing for the existence of variance components in linear mixed models is a fundamental task in many applicative fields. In statistical genetics, the score test has recently become instrumental in the task of testing an association between a set of genetic markers and a phenotype. With few markers, this amounts to set-based variance component tests, which attempt to increase power in association studies by aggregating weak individual effects. When the entire genome is considered, it allows testing for the heritability of a phenotype, defined as the proportion of phenotypic variance explained by genetics. In the popular score-based Sequence Kernel Association Test (SKAT) method, the assumed distribution of the score test statistic is uncalibrated in small samples, with a correction being computationally expensive. This may cause severe inflation or deflation of P-values, even when the null hypothesis is true. Here, we characterize the conditions under which this discrepancy holds, and show it may occur also in large real datasets, such as a dataset from the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium 2 (n = 13,950) study, and, in particular, when the individuals in the sample are unrelated. In these cases, the SKAT approximation tends to be highly overconservative and therefore underpowered. To address this limitation, we suggest an efficient method to calculate exact P-values for the score test in the case of a single variance component and a continuous response vector, which can speed up the analysis by orders of magnitude. Our results enable fast and accurate application of the score test in heritability and in set-based association tests. Our method is available in http://github.com/cozygene/RL-SKAT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1275-1283
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Heritability
  • SKAT
  • Set-tests
  • Statistical genetics


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