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Covariance-based sample selection for heterogeneous data: Applications to gene expression and autism risk gene detection
Risk for autism can be influenced by genetic mutations in hundreds of genes. Based on findings showing that genes with highly correlated gene expressions are functionally interrelated, “guilt by association” methods such as DAWN have been developed to identify these autism risk genes. Previous research analyze the BrainSpan dataset, which contains gene expression of brain tissues from varying regions and developmental periods. Since the spatiotemporal properties of brain tissue is known to affect the gene expression’s covariance, previous research have focused only on a specific subset of samples to avoid the issue of heterogeneity. This analysis leads to a potential loss of power when detecting risk genes. In this article, we develop a new method called COBS (COvariance-Based sample Selection) to find a larger and more homogeneous subset of samples that share the same population covariance matrix for the downstream DAWN analysis. To demonstrate COBS’s effectiveness, we use genetic risk scores from two sequential data freezes obtained in 2014 and 2020. We show COBS improves DAWN’s ability to predict risk genes detected in the newer data freeze when using the risk scores of the older data freeze as input.