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Trends Genet. 2010 Dec;26(12):493-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2010.09.002. Epub 2010 Oct 15.

Critical reasoning on causal inference in genome-wide linkage and association studies.

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Groningen Bioinformatics Centre, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.


Genome-wide linkage and association studies of tens of thousands of clinical and molecular traits are currently underway, offering rich data for inferring causality between traits and genetic variation. However, the inference process is based on discovering subtle patterns in the correlation between traits and is therefore challenging and could create a flood of untrustworthy causal inferences. Here we introduce the concerns and show that they are already valid in simple scenarios of two traits linked to or associated with the same genomic region. We argue that more comprehensive analysis and Bayesian reasoning are needed and that these can overcome some of the pitfalls, although not in every conceivable case. We conclude that causal inference methods can still be of use in the iterative process of mathematical modeling and biological validation.

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