BACKGROUND - The haplotype based association method offers a powerful approach to complex disease gene mapping. In this method, a few common haplotypes that account for the vast majority of chromosomes in the populations are usually examined for association with disease phenotypes. This brings us to a critical question of whether rare haplotypes play an important role in influencing disease susceptibility and thus should not be ignored in the design and execution of association studies.
METHODS - To address this question we surveyed, in a large sample of 1873 white subjects, six candidate genes for osteoporosis (a common late onset bone disorder), which had 29 SNPs, an average marker density of 13 kb, and covered a total of 377 kb of the DNA sequence.
RESULTS - Our empirical data demonstrated that two rare haplotypes of the parathyroid hormone (PTH)/PTH related peptide receptor type 1 and vitamin D receptor genes (PTHR1 and VDR) with frequencies of 1.1% and 2.9%, respectively, had significant effects on osteoporosis phenotypes (p = 4.2 x 10(-6) and p = 1.6 x 10(-4), respectively). Large phenotypic differences (4.0 approximately 5.0%) were observed between carriers of these rare haplotypes and non-carriers. Carriers of the two rare haplotypes showed quantitatively continuous variation in the population and were derived from a wide spectrum rather than from one extreme tail of the population phenotype distribution.
CONCLUSIONS - These findings indicate that rare haplotypes/variants are important for disease susceptibility and cannot be ignored in genetics studies of complex diseases. The study has profound implications for association studies and applications of the HapMap project.