Large scale analysis of phenotype-pathway relationships based on GWAS results

Aharon Brodie, Oholi Tovia-Brodie, Yanay Ofran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The widely used pathway-based approach for interpreting Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), assumes that since function is executed through the interactions of multiple genes, different perturbations of the same pathway would result in a similar phenotype. This assumption, however, was not systemically assessed on a large scale. To determine whether SNPs associated with a given complex phenotype affect the same pathways more than expected by chance, we analyzed 368 phenotypes that were studied in >5000 GWAS. We found 216 significant phenotype-pathway associations between 70 of the phenotypes we analyzed and known pathways. We also report 391 strong phenotype-phenotype associations between phenotypes that are affected by the same pathways. While some of these associations confirm previously reported connections, others are new and could shed light on the molecular basis of these diseases. Our findings confirm that phenotype-associated SNPs cluster into pathways much more than expected by chance. However, this is true for <20% (70/ 368) of the phenotypes. Different types of phenotypes show markedly different tendencies: Virtually all autoimmune phenotypes show strong clustering of SNPs into pathways, while most cancers and metabolic conditions, and all electrophysiological phenotypes, could not be significantly associated with any pathway despite being significantly associated with a large number of SNPs. While this may be due to missing data, it may also suggest that these phenotypes could result only from perturbations of specific genes and not from other perturbations of the same pathway. Further analysis of pathway-associated versus gene-associated phenotypes is, therefore, needed in order to understand disease etiology and in order to promote better drug target selection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere100887
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - 9 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)
  • General


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