Openness-weighted association study (OWAS) is a method that leverages the in silico prediction of chromatin accessibility to prioritize genome-wide association studies (GWAS) signals, and can provide novel insights into the roles of non-coding variants in complex diseases. A prerequisite to apply OWAS is to choose a trait-related cell type beforehand. However, for most complex traits, the trait-relevant cell types remain elusive. In addition, many complex traits involve multiple related cell types. To address these issues, we develop OWAS-joint, an efficient framework that aggregates predicted chromatin accessibility across multiple cell types, to prioritize disease-associated genomic segments. In simulation studies, we demonstrate that OWAS-joint achieves a greater statistical power compared to OWAS. Moreover, the heritability explained by OWAS-joint segments is higher than or comparable to OWAS segments. OWAS-joint segments also have high replication rates in independent replication cohorts. Applying the method to six complex human traits, we demonstrate the advantages of OWAS-joint over a single-cell-type OWAS approach. We highlight that OWAS-joint enhances the biological interpretation of disease mechanisms, especially for non-coding regions.

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