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Genet Med. 2005 Jan;7(1):13-20.

Obstacles and opportunities in meta-analysis of genetic association studies.

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MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge, UK.


Genetic association studies have the potential to advance our understanding of genotype-phenotype relationships, especially for common, complex diseases where other approaches, such as linkage, are less powerful. Unfortunately, many reported studies are not replicated or corroborated. This lack of reproducibility has many potential causes, relating to study design, sample size, and power issues, and from sources of true variability among populations. Genetic association studies can be considered as more similar to randomized trials than other types of observational epidemiological studies because of "Mendelian randomization" (Mendel's second law). The rationale and methodology for synthesizing randomized trials is highly relevant to the meta-analysis of genetic association studies. Nevertheless, there are a number of obstacles to overcome when performing such meta-analyses. In this review, the impacts of Type I error, lack of power, and publication and reporting biases are explored, and the role of multiple testing is discussed. A number of special features of association studies are especially pertinent, because they may lead to true variability among study results. These include population dynamics and structure, linkage disequilibrium, conformity to Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium, bias, population stratification, statistical heterogeneity, epistatic and environmental interactions, and the choice of statistical models used in the analysis. Approaches to dealing with these issues are outlined. The supreme importance of complete and consistent study reporting and of making data readily available is also highlighted as a prerequisite for sound meta-analysis. We believe that systematic review and meta-analysis has an important role to play in understanding genetic association studies and should help us to separate the wheat from the chaff.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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