Methods for Meta-Analysis in Genetic Association Studies: A Review of Their Potential and Pitfalls

Hum Genet. 2008 Feb;123(1):1-14. doi: 10.1007/s00439-007-0445-9. Epub 2007 Nov 17.

Abstract

Meta-analysis offers the opportunity to combine evidence from retrospectively accumulated or prospectively generated data. Meta-analyses may provide summary estimates and can help in detecting and addressing potential inconsistency between the combined datasets. Application of meta-analysis in genetic associations presents considerable potential and several pitfalls. In this review, we present basic principles of meta-analytic methods, adapted for human genome epidemiology. We describe issues that arise in the retrospective or the prospective collection of relevant data through various sources, common traps to consider in the appraisal of evidence and potential biases that may interfere. We describe the relative merits and caveats for common methods used to trace inconsistency across studies along with possible reasons for non-replication of proposed associations. Different statistical models may be employed to combine data and some common misconceptions may arise in the process. Several meta-analysis diagnostics are often applied or misapplied in the literature, and we comment on their use and limitations. An alternative to overcome limitations arising from retrospective combination of data from published studies is to create networks of research teams working in the same field and perform collaborative meta-analyses of individual participant data, ideally on a prospective basis. We discuss the advantages and the challenges inherent in such collaborative approaches. Meta-analysis can be a useful tool in dissecting the genetics of complex diseases and traits, provided its methods are properly applied and interpreted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetics, Population
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Molecular Epidemiology