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 × 10 -6 and p = 1.6 × 10-4, respectively). Large phenotypic differences (4.0-5.0%) 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.
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