Unsupervised representation learning on high-dimensional clinical data improves genomic discovery and prediction

Babak Behsaz
Zachary Ryan Mccaw
Davin Hill
Robert Luben
Dongbing Lai
John Bates
Howard Yang
Tae-Hwi Schwantes-An
Yuchen Zhou
Anthony Khawaja
Andrew Carroll
Brian Hobbs
Michael Cho
Nature Genetics(2024)


Although high-dimensional clinical data (HDCD) are increasingly available in biobank-scale datasets, their use for genetic discovery remains challenging. Here we introduce an unsupervised deep learning model, Representation Learning for Genetic Discovery on Low-Dimensional Embeddings (REGLE), for discovering associations between genetic variants and HDCD. REGLE leverages variational autoencoders to compute nonlinear disentangled embeddings of HDCD, which become the inputs to genome-wide association studies (GWAS). REGLE can uncover features not captured by existing expert-defined features and enables the creation of accurate disease-specific polygenic risk scores (PRSs) in datasets with very few labeled data. We apply REGLE to perform GWAS on respiratory and circulatory HDCD—spirograms measuring lung function and photoplethysmograms measuring blood volume changes. REGLE replicates known loci while identifying others not previously detected. REGLE are predictive of overall survival, and PRSs constructed from REGLE loci improve disease prediction across multiple biobanks. Overall, REGLE contain clinically relevant information beyond that captured by existing expert-defined features, leading to improved genetic discovery and disease prediction.