Implementing informative priors for heterogeneity in meta-analysis using meta-regression and pseudo data

Kirsty M Rhodes, Rebecca M Turner, Ian R White, Dan Jackson, David Spiegelhalter, Julian P T Higgins

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

18 Citations (Scopus)
491 Downloads (Pure)


Many meta-analyses combine results from only a small number of studies, a situation in which the between-study variance is imprecisely estimated when standard methods are applied. Bayesian meta-analysis allows incorporation of external evidence on heterogeneity, providing the potential for more robust inference on the e ect size of interest. We present a method for performing Bayesian meta-analysis using data augmentation, in which we represent an informative conjugate prior for between-study variance by pseudo data and use meta-regression for estimation. To assist in this, we derive predictive inverse-gamma distributions for the between-study variance expected in future meta-analyses. These may serve as priors for heterogeneity in new meta-analyses. In a simulation study, we compare approximate Bayesian methods using meta-regression and pseudo data against fully Bayesian approaches based on importance sampling techniques and Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC). We compare the frequentist properties of these Bayesian methods with those of the commonly used frequentist DerSimonian and Laird procedure. The method is implemented in standard statistical software and provides a less complex alternative to standard MCMC approaches. An importance sampling approach produces almost identical results to standard MCMC approaches, and results obtained through meta-regression and pseudo data are very similar. On average, data augmentation provides closer results to MCMC, if implemented using restricted maximum likelihood estimation rather than DerSimonian and Laird or maximum likelihood estimation. The methods are applied to real datasets and an extension to network meta-analysis is described. The proposed method facilitates Bayesian meta-analysis in a way that is accessible to applied researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5495-5511
Number of pages17
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number29
Early online date30 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2016


  • meta-analysis
  • heterogeneity
  • informative priors
  • meta-regression
  • data augmentation

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