Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomathematics and Biostatistics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Christopher I. Amos, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ralf Krahe (On-site advisor), Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jianzhong Ma, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Yunxin Fu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard E. Davis, M.D.


Complex diseases such as cancer result from multiple genetic changes and environmental exposures. Due to the rapid development of genotyping and sequencing technologies, we are now able to more accurately assess causal effects of many genetic and environmental factors. Genome-wide association studies have been able to localize many causal genetic variants predisposing to certain diseases. However, these studies only explain a small portion of variations in the heritability of diseases. More advanced statistical models are urgently needed to identify and characterize some additional genetic and environmental factors and their interactions, which will enable us to better understand the causes of complex diseases. In the past decade, thanks to the increasing computational capabilities and novel statistical developments, Bayesian methods have been widely applied in the genetics/genomics researches and demonstrating superiority over some regular approaches in certain research areas. Gene-environment and gene-gene interaction studies are among the areas where Bayesian methods may fully exert its functionalities and advantages.

This dissertation focuses on developing new Bayesian statistical methods for data analysis with complex gene-environment and gene-gene interactions, as well as extending some existing methods for gene-environment interactions to other related areas. It includes three sections: (1) Deriving the Bayesian variable selection framework for the hierarchical gene-environment and gene-gene interactions; (2) Developing the Bayesian Natural and Orthogonal Interaction (NOIA) models for gene-environment interactions; and (3) extending the applications of two Bayesian statistical methods which were developed for gene-environment interaction studies, to other related types of studies such as adaptive borrowing historical data.

We propose a Bayesian hierarchical mixture model framework that allows us to investigate the genetic and environmental effects, gene by gene interactions (epistasis) and gene by environment interactions in the same model. It is well known that, in many practical situations, there exists a natural hierarchical structure between the main effects and interactions in the linear model. Here we propose a model that incorporates this hierarchical structure into the Bayesian mixture model, such that the irrelevant interaction effects can be removed more efficiently, resulting in more robust, parsimonious and powerful models. We evaluate both of the 'strong hierarchical' and 'weak hierarchical' models, which specify that both or one of the main effects between interacting factors must be present for the interactions to be included in the model. The extensive simulation results show that the proposed strong and weak hierarchical mixture models control the proportion of false positive discoveries and yield a powerful approach to identify the predisposing main effects and interactions in the studies with complex gene-environment and gene-gene interactions. We also compare these two models with the 'independent' model that does not impose this hierarchical constraint and observe their superior performances in most of the considered situations. The proposed models are implemented in the real data analysis of gene and environment interactions in the cases of lung cancer and cutaneous melanoma case-control studies. The Bayesian statistical models enjoy the properties of being allowed to incorporate useful prior information in the modeling process. Moreover, the Bayesian mixture model outperforms the multivariate logistic model in terms of the performances on the parameter estimation and variable selection in most cases. Our proposed models hold the hierarchical constraints, that further improve the Bayesian mixture model by reducing the proportion of false positive findings among the identified interactions and successfully identifying the reported associations. This is practically appealing for the study of investigating the causal factors from a moderate number of candidate genetic and environmental factors along with a relatively large number of interactions.

The natural and orthogonal interaction (NOIA) models of genetic effects have previously been developed to provide an analysis framework, by which the estimates of effects for a quantitative trait are statistically orthogonal regardless of the existence of Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium (HWE) within loci. Ma et al. (2012) recently developed a NOIA model for the gene-environment interaction studies and have shown the advantages of using the model for detecting the true main effects and interactions, compared with the usual functional model. In this project, we propose a novel Bayesian statistical model that combines the Bayesian hierarchical mixture model with the NOIA statistical model and the usual functional model. The proposed Bayesian NOIA model demonstrates more power at detecting the non-null effects with higher marginal posterior probabilities. Also, we review two Bayesian statistical models (Bayesian empirical shrinkage-type estimator and Bayesian model averaging), which were developed for the gene-environment interaction studies. Inspired by these Bayesian models, we develop two novel statistical methods that are able to handle the related problems such as borrowing data from historical studies. The proposed methods are analogous to the methods for the gene-environment interactions on behalf of the success on balancing the statistical efficiency and bias in a unified model. By extensive simulation studies, we compare the operating characteristics of the proposed models with the existing models including the hierarchical meta-analysis model. The results show that the proposed approaches adaptively borrow the historical data in a data-driven way. These novel models may have a broad range of statistical applications in both of genetic/genomic and clinical studies.


Bayesian Variable Selection, Hierarchical Interaction, Orthogonality, Adaptive Borrowing

Included in

Biostatistics Commons



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