Sensitivity analyses for robust causal inference from Mendelian randomization analyses with multiple genetic variants

Stephen Burgess*, Jack Bowden, Tove Fall, Erik Ingelsson, Simon G. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

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

192 Citations (Scopus)
619 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Mendelian randomization investigations are becoming more powerful and simpler to perform, due to the increasing size and coverage of genome-wide association studies and the increasing availability of summarized data on genetic associations with risk factors and disease outcomes. However, when using multiple genetic variants from different gene regions in a Mendelian randomization analysis, it is highly implausible that all the genetic variants satisfy the instrumental variable assumptions. This means that a simple instrumental variable analysis alone should not be relied on to give a causal conclusion. In this paper, we discuss a range of sensitivity analyses that will either support or question the validity of causal inference from a Mendelian randomization analysis with multiple genetic variants. We focus on sensitivity analyses of greatest practical relevance for ensuring robust causal inferences, and those that can be undertaken using summarized data. Aside from cases in which the justification of the instrumental variable assumptions is supported by strong biological understanding, a Mendelian randomization analysis in which no assessment of the robustness of the findings to violations of the instrumental variable assumptions has been made should be viewed as speculative and incomplete. In particular, Mendelian randomization investigations with large numbers of genetic variants without such sensitivity analyses should be treated with skepticism.This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CCBY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-42
Number of pages13
JournalEpidemiology
Volume28
Issue number1
Early online date26 Sep 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

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