Finding genetic overlaps among diseases based on ranked gene lists.


To understand disease relationships in terms of their genetic mechanisms, it is important to study the common genetic basis among different diseases. Although discoveries on pleiotropic genes related to multiple diseases abound, methods flexibly applicable to various types of datasets generated from different studies or experiments are needed to gain big pictures on the genetic relationships among a large number of diseases. We develop a set of genetic similarity measures to gauge the genetic overlap between diseases, as well as several estimators of the number of overlapping disease genes between diseases. These methods are based on ranked gene lists so that they could be flexibly applied to different types of data. We first investigate the performance of the genetic similarity measure for evaluating the similarity between human diseases in simulation studies. Then we apply the method to diseases in the OMIM database. We show that our proposed genetic measure achieves superior performance in explaining phenotype similarities between diseases compared to simpler methods. Furthermore, we identified common genes underlying the genetic overlap between disease pairs. With an example of five vision-related diseases, we demonstrate how our methods can provide insights into the relationships among diseases based on their shared genetic mechanisms.

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