Identification and interpretation of non-coding variations that affect disease risk remain a paramount challenge in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of complex diseases. Experimental efforts have provided comprehensive annotations of functional elements in the human genome. On the other hand, advances in computational biology, especially machine learning approaches, have facilitated accurate predictions of cell-type-specific functional annotations. Integrating functional annotations with GWAS signals has advanced the understanding of disease mechanisms. In previous studies, functional annotations were treated as static of a genomic region, ignoring potential functional differences imposed by different genotypes across individuals.


We develop a computational approach, Openness Weighted Association Studies (OWAS), to leverage and aggregate predictions of chromosome accessibility in personal genomes for prioritizing GWAS signals. The approach relies on an analytical expression we derived for identifying disease associated genomic segments whose effects in the etiology of complex diseases are evaluated. In extensive simulations and real data analysis, OWAS identifies genes/segments that explain more heritability than existing methods, and has a better replication rate in independent cohorts than GWAS. Moreover, the identified genes/segments show tissue-specific patterns and are enriched in disease relevant pathways. We use rheumatic arthritis and asthma as examples to demonstrate how OWAS can be exploited to provide novel insights on complex diseases.

Availability and implementation

The R package OWAS that implements our method is available at

Supplementary information

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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