Methods based on variance components are powerful tools for linkage analysis of quantitative traits, because they allow simultaneous consideration of all pedigree members. The central idea is to identify loci making a significant contribution to the population variance of a trait, by use of allele-sharing probabilities derived from genotyped marker loci. The technique is only as powerful as the methods used to infer these probabilities, but, to date, no implementation has made full use of the inheritance information in mapping data. Here we present a new implementation that uses an exact multipoint algorithm to extract the full probability distribution of allele sharing at every point in a mapped region. At each locus in the region, the program fits a model that partitions total phenotypic variance into components due to environmental factors, a major gene at the locus, and other unlinked genes. Numerical methods are used to derive maximum-likelihood estimates of the variance components, under the assumption of multivariate normality. A likelihood-ratio test is then applied to detect any significant effect of the hypothesized major gene. Simulations show the method to have greater power than does traditional sib-pair analysis. The method is freely available in a new release of the software package GENEHUNTER.
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