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Mendelian Randomization: Concepts and Scope

Rebecca C. Richmond, George Davey Smith

Abstract: Mendelian randomization (MR) is a method of studying the causal effects of modifiable exposures (i.e., potential risk factors) on health, social, and economic outcomes using genetic variants associated with the specific exposures of interest. MR provides a more robust understanding of the influence of these exposures on outcomes because germline genetic variants are randomly inherited from parents to offspring and, as a result, should not be related to potential confounding factors that influence exposure–outcome associations. The genetic variant can therefore be used as a tool to link the proposed risk factor and outcome, and to estimate this effect with less confounding and bias than conventional epidemiological approaches. We describe the scope of MR, highlighting the range of applications being made possible as genetic data sets and resources become larger and more freely available. We outline the MR approach in detail, covering concepts, assumptions, and estimation methods. We cover some common misconceptions, provide strategies for overcoming violation of assumptions, and discuss future prospects for extending the clinical applicability, methodological innovations, robustness, and generalizability of MR findings.
Keywords: germline / genetic variants / Mendelian / Scope / robust / Concepts / exposures / outcomes / confounding

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