Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Matthew C. Keller

Second Advisor

Matt Jones

Third Advisor

Marissa A. Ehringer

Fourth Advisor

Thomas E Johnson

Fifth Advisor

Matthew B. McQueen


One of the central motivators behind genetic research is to understand how genetic variation relates to human health and disease. Recently, there has been a large-scale effort to find common genetic variants associated with many forms of disease and disorder using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Several genome-wide association (GWAS) studies have successfully identified SNPs associated with phenotypes. However, the effect sizes attributed to individual variants is generally small, explaining only a very small amount of the genetic risk and heritability expected based on the estimates of family and twin studies. Several explanations exist for the inability of GWAS to find the "missing heritability." The results of recent research appear to confirm the prediction made by population genetics theory that most complex phenotypes are highly polygenic, occasionally influenced by a few alleles of relatively large effect, and usually by several of small effect. Studies have also confirmed that common variants are only part of what contributes to the total genetic variance for most traits, indicating rare-variants may play a significant role. This research addresses some of the most glaring weaknesses of the traditional GWAS approach through the application of methods of polygenic analysis. We apply several methods, including those that investigate the net effects of large sets of SNPs, more sophisticated approaches informed by biology rather than the purely statistical approach of GWAS, as well as methods that infer the effects of recessive rare variants. Our results indicate that traditional GWAS is well complemented and improved upon by methods of polygenic analysis. We demonstrate that polygenic approaches can be used to significantly predict individual risk for disease, provide an unbiased estimate of a substantial proportion of the heritability for multiple phenotypes, identify sets of genes grouped into biological pathways that are enriched for associations, and finally, detect the significant influence of recessive rare variants.