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Genet Epidemiol. 2011 Nov;35(7):592-6. doi: 10.1002/gepi.20607. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Bias due to two-stage residual-outcome regression analysis in genetic association studies.

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Department of Biostatistics, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


Association studies of risk factors and complex diseases require careful assessment of potential confounding factors. Two-stage regression analysis, sometimes referred to as residual- or adjusted-outcome analysis, has been increasingly used in association studies of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and quantitative traits. In this analysis, first, a residual-outcome is calculated from a regression of the outcome variable on covariates and then the relationship between the adjusted-outcome and the SNP is evaluated by a simple linear regression of the adjusted-outcome on the SNP. In this article, we examine the performance of this two-stage analysis as compared with multiple linear regression (MLR) analysis. Our findings show that when a SNP and a covariate are correlated, the two-stage approach results in biased genotypic effect and loss of power. Bias is always toward the null and increases with the squared-correlation between the SNP and the covariate (). For example, for , 0.1, and 0.5, two-stage analysis results in, respectively, 0, 10, and 50% attenuation in the SNP effect. As expected, MLR was always unbiased. Since individual SNPs often show little or no correlation with covariates, a two-stage analysis is expected to perform as well as MLR in many genetic studies; however, it produces considerably different results from MLR and may lead to incorrect conclusions when independent variables are highly correlated. While a useful alternative to MLR under , the two -stage approach has serious limitations. Its use as a simple substitute for MLR should be avoided.

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