Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 187–195 | Cite as

The Coherence Problem: Finding Meaning in GWAS Complexity

  • Mark A. ReimersEmail author
  • Carl Craver
  • Mikhail Dozmorov
  • Silviu-Alin Bacanu
  • Kenneth S. KendlerEmail author
Original Research


Genome wide association studies (GWAS) for behavioral traits and psychiatric disorders have inspired both confident optimism and withering criticism. Although many recent findings from well powered GWAS have been replicated in independent data sets, the genes identified have pinned down few if any underlying causal mechanisms. Therefore, a key issue is whether or not the genes implicated by GWAS form a coherent story on their own and thus could in principle lead to insight into the biological mechanisms underlying the trait or disorder. We sketch here four scenarios for how genes may contribute to traits and disorders; genetic studies may help elucidate mechanisms under only two of our scenarios. We also describe here an approach to characterize, in an unbiased fashion, the molecular coherence of the gene sets implicated by GWAS of various behavioral and psychiatric phenotypes and we sketch how the four scenarios may be reflected in our molecular coherence measure.


GWAS Psychiatric illness Molecular genetics Coherence Philosophy 



This project was supported by a Genetics and Human Agency Award to KSK. This work is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official view of the funders (John Templeton Foundation).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Mark A. Reimers, Carl Craver, Mikhail Dozmorov, Silviu-Alin Bacanu and Kenneth S. Kendler declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

For this type of study formal consent is not required.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Neuroscience Program and Department of Biomedical EngineeringMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology ProgramWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiostatisticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral GeneticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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