A framework for the investigation of pleiotropy in two-sample summary data Mendelian randomization

Jack Bowden, Fabiola Del Greco M, Cosetta Minelli, George Davey Smith, Nuala Sheehan, John Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Mendelian randomization (MR) uses genetic data to probe questions of causality in epidemiological research, by invoking the Instrumental Variable (IV) assumptions. In recent years, it has become commonplace to attempt MR analyses by synthesising summary data estimates of genetic association gleaned from large and independent study populations. This is referred to as two-sample summary data MR. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of variants that can be easily included into summary data MR analyses, it is increasingly likely that some do not meet the IV assumptions due to pleiotropy. There is a pressing need to develop methods that can both detect and correct for pleiotropy, in order to preserve the validity of the MR approach in this context. In this paper, we aim to clarify how established methods of meta-regression and random effects modelling from mainstream meta-analysis are being adapted to perform this task. Specifically, we focus on two contrastin g approaches: the Inverse Variance Weighted (IVW) method which assumes in its simplest form that all genetic variants are valid IVs, and the method of MR-Egger regression that allows all variants to violate the IV assumptions, albeit in a specific way. We investigate the ability of two popular random effects models to provide robustness to pleiotropy under the IVW approach, and propose statistics to quantify the relative goodness-of-fit of the IVW approach over MR-Egger regression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1783–1802
Number of pages20
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Early online date23 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2017


  • Instrumental variables
  • Mendelian randomisation
  • Meta-analysis
  • MR-Egger regression
  • Pleiotropy


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