Testing for causality between systematically identified risk factors and glioma: A Mendelian randomization study

A E Howell, J W Robinson, R E Wootton, A McAleenan, S Tsavachidis , Q T Ostrom , M Bondy , G Armstrong , C Relton, P Haycock, R M Martin, J Zheng, K M Kurian

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Background Whilst epidemiological studies have provided evidence of associations between certain risk factors and glioma onset, inferring causality has proven challenging. Using Mendelian randomization (MR), we assessed whether associations of 36 reported glioma risk factors showed evidence of a causal relationship. Methods We performed a systematic search of MEDLINE from inception to October 2018 to identify candidate risk factors and conducted a meta-analysis of two glioma genome-wide association studies (5739 cases and 5501 controls) to form our exposure and outcome datasets. MR analyses were performed using genetic variants to proxy for candidate risk factors. We investigated whether risk factors differed by subtype diagnosis (either glioblastoma (n = 3112) or non-glioblastoma (n = 2411)). MR estimates for each risk factor were determined using multiplicative random effects inverse-variance weighting (IVW). Sensitivity analyses investigated potential pleiotropy using MR-Egger regression, the weighted median estimator, and the mode-based estimator. To increase power, trait-specific polygenic risk scores were used to test the association of a genetically predicated increase in each risk factor with glioma onset. Results Our systematic search identified 36 risk factors that could be proxied using genetic variants. Using MR, we found evidence that four genetically predicted traits increased risk of glioma, glioblastoma or non-glioblastoma: longer leukocyte telomere length, liability to allergic disease, increased alcohol consumption and liability to childhood extreme obesity (> 3 standard deviations from the mean). Two traits decreased risk of non-glioblastoma cancers: increased low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDLc) and triglyceride levels. Our findings were similar across sensitivity analyses that made allowance for pleiotropy (genetic confounding). Conclusions Our comprehensive investigation provides evidence of a causal link between both genetically predicted leukocyte telomere length, allergic disease, alcohol consumption, childhood extreme obesity, and LDLc and triglyceride levels, and glioma. The findings from our study warrant further research to uncover mechanisms that implicate these traits in glioma onset.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Cancer
Volume(2020) 20
Issue number508
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020

Structured keywords

  • ICEP


  • Mendelian randomization
  • glioma
  • risk factor
  • systematic search
  • causal inference

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