The Increasing Importance of Gene-Based Analyses.

In recent years, genome and exome sequencing studies have implicated a plethora of new disease genes with rare causal variants. Here, I review 150 exome sequencing studies that claim to have discovered that a disease can be caused by different rare variants in the same gene, and I determine whether their methods followed the current best-practice guidelines in the interpretation of their data. Specifically, I assess whether studies appropriately assess controls for rare variants throughout the entire gene or implicated region as opposed to only investigating the specific rare variants identified in the cases, and I assess whether studies present sufficient co-segregation data for statistically significant linkage. I find that the proportion of studies performing gene-based analyses has increased with time, but that even in 2015 fewer than 40% of the reviewed studies used this method, and only 10% presented statistically significant co-segregation data. Furthermore, I find that the genes reported in these papers are explaining a decreasing proportion of cases as the field moves past most of the low-hanging fruit, with 50% of the genes from studies in 2014 and 2015 having variants in fewer than 5% of cases. As more studies focus on genes explaining relatively few cases, the importance of performing appropriate gene-based analyses is increasing. It is becoming increasingly important for journal editors and reviewers to require stringent gene-based evidence to avoid an avalanche of misleading disease gene discovery papers.

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