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Detecting and correcting for bias in Mendelian randomization analyses using gene-by-environment interactions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Early online date20 Nov 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 17 Sep 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 20 Nov 2018


Background: Mendelian randomization (MR) has developed into an established method for strengthening causal inference and estimating causal effects, largely due to the proliferation of genome-wide association studies. However, genetic instruments remain controversial as horizontal pleiotropic effects can introduce bias into causal estimates. Recent work has highlighted the potential of gene-environment interactions in detecting and correcting for pleiotropic bias in MR analyses.

Methods: We introduce MR using Gene-by-Environment interactions (MRGxE) as a framework capable of identifying and correcting for pleiotropic bias. If an instrument-covariate interaction induces variation in the association between a genetic instrument and exposure, it is possible to identify and correct for pleiotropic effects. The interpretation of MRGxE is similar to conventional summary MR approaches, with a particular advantage of MRGxE being the ability to assess the validity of an individual instrument.

Results: We investigate the effect of adiposity, measured using body mass index (BMI), upon systolic blood pressure (SBP) using data from the UK Biobank and a single weighted allelic score informed by data from the GIANT consortium. We find MRGxE produces findings in agreement with two-sample summary MR approaches. Further, we perform simulations highlighting the utility of the approach even when the MRGxE assumptions are violated.

Conclusions: By utilising instrument-covariate interactions in Mendelian randomization analyses implemented within a linear regression framework, it is possible to identify and correct for horizontal pleiotropic bias, provided the average magnitude of pleiotropy is constant across interaction covariate subgroups.

    Research areas

  • Mendelian randomization, invalid instruments, pleiotropy, MRGxE, gene-environment interaction

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