PLoS One. 2023 Jan 25;18(1):e0280951. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280951. eCollection 2023.
The use of publicly available sequencing datasets as controls (hereafter, “public controls”) in studies of rare variant disease associations has great promise but can increase the risk of false-positive discovery. The specific factors that could contribute to inflated distribution of test statistics have not been systematically examined. Here, we leveraged both public controls, gnomAD v2.1 and several datasets sequenced in our laboratory to systematically investigate factors that could contribute to the false-positive discovery, as measured by λΔ95, a measure to quantify the degree of inflation in statistical significance. Analyses of datasets in this investigation found that 1) the significantly inflated distribution of test statistics decreased substantially when the same variant caller and filtering pipelines were employed, 2) differences in library prep kits and sequencers did not affect the false-positive discovery rate and, 3) joint vs. separate variant-calling of cases and controls did not contribute to the inflation of test statistics. Currently available methods do not adequately adjust for the high false-positive discovery. These results, especially if replicated, emphasize the risks of using public controls for rare-variant association tests in which individual-level data and the computational pipeline are not readily accessible, which prevents the use of the same variant-calling and filtering pipelines on both cases and controls. A plausible solution exists with the emergence of cloud-based computing, which can make it possible to bring containerized analytical pipelines to the data (rather than the data to the pipeline) and could avert or minimize these issues. It is suggested that future reports account for this issue and provide this as a limitation in reporting new findings based on studies that cannot practically analyze all data on a single pipeline.