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SumHer better estimates the SNP heritability of complex traits from summary statistics

Nature Genetics (2018) | Download Citation


We present SumHer, software for estimating confounding bias, SNP heritability, enrichments of heritability and genetic correlations using summary statistics from genome-wide association studies. The key difference between SumHer and the existing software LD Score Regression (LDSC) is that SumHer allows the user to specify the heritability model. We apply SumHer to results from 24 large-scale association studies (average sample size 121,000) using our recommended heritability model. We show that these studies tended to substantially over-correct for confounding, and as a result the number of genome-wide significant loci was under-reported by about a quarter. We also estimate enrichments for 24 categories of SNPs defined by functional annotations. A previous study using LDSC reported that conserved regions were 13-fold enriched, and found a further six categories with above threefold enrichment. By contrast, our analysis using SumHer finds that none of the categories have enrichment above twofold. SumHer provides an improved understanding of the genetic architecture of complex traits, which enables more efficient analysis of future genetic data.

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Data availability

The simulations and 25 raw GWAS used data from the Wellcome Trust and the eMERGE Network. These were applied for and downloaded from, respectively, the European Genome-phenome Archive (accession codes EGAD00000000001, EGAD00000000002, EGAD00000000003, EGAD00000000004, EGAD00000000005, EGAD00000000006, EGAD00000000007, EGAD00000000008, EGAD00000000009, EGAD00000000021, EGAD00000000022, EGAD00000000023, EGAD00000000024, EGAD00000000025, EGAD00000000057, EGAD00010000124, EGAD00010000264, EGAD00010000506, EGAD00010000634, EGAS00001000672) and from dbGaP (accession code phs000888.v1.p1). To investigate the impact of the reference panel, we used data from the Health and Retirement Study, also available from dbGaP (accession code: phs000428.v2.p2). Results for each of the 24 summary GWAS are available to download from the websites of the corresponding studies (see Table 1 for references).

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We thank A. Price, H. Finucane, P. O’Reilly and M. Speed for helpful discussions. Access to the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium data was authorized as work related to the project ‘Genome-wide association study of susceptibility and clinical phenotypes in epilepsy’, access to eMERGE Network data was granted under dbGaP Project 14422, ‘Comprehensive testing of SNP-based prediction models’, while access to the Health and Retirement Study was granted under dbGaP Project 15139, ‘Developing summary-statistic tools for analysing genetic association study data’. D.S. is funded by the UK Medical Research Council under grant no. MR/L012561/1, by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 754513, by Aarhus University Research Foundation (AUFF) and the Independent Research Fund Denmark under Project no. 7025-00094B. The eMERGE Network was initiated and funded by NHGRI through the following grants: U01HG006828 (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/Boston Children’s Hospital); U01HG006830 (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia); U01HG006389 (Essentia Institute of Rural Health, Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation and Pennsylvania State University); U01HG006382 (Geisinger Clinic); U01HG006375 (Group Health Cooperative); U01HG006379 (Mayo Clinic); U01HG006380 (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai); U01HG006388 (Northwestern University); U01HG006378 (Vanderbilt University Medical Center); and U01HG006385 (Vanderbilt University Medical Center serving as the Coordinating Center). The Health and Retirement Study genetic data is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (grant nos. U01AG009740, RC2AG036495, and RC4AG039029) and was conducted by the University of Michigan. Analyses were performed with the use of the UCL Computer Science Cluster and the help of the CS Technical Support Group, as well as the use of the UCL Legion High-Performance Computing Facility (Legion@UCL) and associated support services.

Author information


  1. Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

    • Doug Speed
  2. Bioinformatics Research Centre, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

    • Doug Speed
  3. UCL Genetics Institute, University College London, London, UK

    • Doug Speed
    •  & David J. Balding
  4. Melbourne Integrative Genomics, School of BioSciences and School of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • David J. Balding


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D.S. performed the analysis, D.S. and D.J.B. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Doug Speed.

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