Robust and sensitive analysis of mouse knockout phenotypes.
A significant challenge of in-vivo studies is the identification of phenotypes with a method that is robust and reliable. The challenge arises from practical issues that lead to experimental designs which are not ideal. Breeding issues, particularly in the presence of fertility or fecundity problems, frequently lead to data being collected in multiple batches. This problem is acute in high throughput phenotyping programs. In addition, in a high throughput environment operational issues lead to controls not being measured on the same day as knockouts. We highlight how application of traditional methods, such as a Student's t-Test or a 2-way ANOVA, in these situations give flawed results and should not be used. We explore the use of mixed models using worked examples from Sanger Mouse Genome Project focusing on Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry data for the analysis of mouse knockout data and compare to a reference range approach. We show that mixed model analysis is more sensitive and less prone to artefacts allowing the discovery of subtle quantitative phenotypes essential for correlating a gene's function to human disease. We demonstrate how a mixed model approach has the additional advantage of being able to include covariates, such as body weight, to separate effect of genotype from these covariates. This is a particular issue in knockout studies, where body weight is a common phenotype and will enhance the precision of assigning phenotypes and the subsequent selection of lines for secondary phenotyping. The use of mixed models with in-vivo studies has value not only in improving the quality and sensitivity of the data analysis but also ethically as a method suitable for small batches which reduces the breeding burden of a colony. This will reduce the use of animals, increase throughput, and decrease cost whilst improving the quality and depth of knowledge gained.