Methods to estimate genetic components of variance for quantitative traits in family studies

Mariza De Andrade, Christopher I. Amos, Tracy J. Thiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The aim of this paper was to compare several methods of estimating the genetic components of a quantitative trait in familial data. The Expectation and Maximization (E-M) algorithm, the Newton-Raphson method, and the scoring method were compared for estimating polygenic and environmental effects on nuclear families. We also compared scoring and quasilikelihood (QL) methods when a linked genetic marker was available to estimate effects from a major gene. Generally, all procedures performed similarly in estimating polygenic and environmental variance components. The E-M algorithm yielded more precise estimators when heritability was low. The scoring method was much faster than the other methods and yielded slightly more precise estimates of mean effects but slightly less precise estimates of the variance components. Estimates of major gene effects were not affected by the number of alleles at the trait locus. For these relatively large sample sizes, QL and scoring had similar precision, but QL took 32 times longer than scoring. Finally, we compared the results of applying these methods to data from the Bogalusa Heart Study. Results showed larger imprecision when the QL method was applied, consistent with earlier studies that showed decreased precision of quasilikelihood compared with maximum likelihood in moderately small sample sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-76
Number of pages13
JournalGenetic epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999


  • Iterative estimation methods
  • Linkage
  • Major gene effect
  • Variance components

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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