Assessment and visualization of phenome-wide causal relationships using genetic data: an application to dental caries and periodontitis

Simon J Haworth, Pik-Fang Kho, Pernilla Lif Holgerson, Daniel Liang-Dar Hwang, Nicholas John Timpson, Miguel E Renteria, Ingegerd Johansson, Gabriel Cuellar-Partida*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

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Hypothesis-free Mendelian randomization studies provide a way to assess the causal relevance of a trait across the human phenome but can be limited by statistical power, sample overlap or complicated by horizontal pleiotropy. The recently described latent causal variable (LCV) approach provides an alternative method for causal inference which might be useful in hypothesis-free experiments across human phenome. We developed an automated pipeline for phenome-wide tests using the LCV approach including steps to estimate partial genetic causality, filter to a meaningful set of estimates, apply correction for multiple testing and then present the findings in a graphical summary termed causal architecture plot. We apply this pipeline to BMI and lipid traits as exemplars of traits where there is strong prior expectation for causal effects, and to dental caries and periodontitis as exemplars of traits where there is a need for causal inference. The results for lipids and BMI suggest that these traits are best viewed as contributing factors on a multitude of traits and conditions, thus providing additional evidence that supports viewing these traits as targets for interventions to improve health. On the other hand, caries and periodontitis are best viewed as a downstream consequence of other traits and diseases rather than a cause of ill health. The automated pipeline is implemented in the Complex-Traits Genetics Virtual Lab ( and results are available in ( We propose causal architecture plots based on phenome-wide partial genetic causality estimates as a new way visualizing the overall causal map of the human phenome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300–308(2021)
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2020


  • GWAS
  • Complex Traits
  • Web application
  • Genetic epidemiology


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