Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium testing of biological ascertainment for Mendelian randomization studies

Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Feb 15;169(4):505-14. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwn359. Epub 2009 Jan 6.


Mendelian randomization (MR) permits causal inference between exposures and a disease. It can be compared with randomized controlled trials. Whereas in a randomized controlled trial the randomization occurs at entry into the trial, in MR the randomization occurs during gamete formation and conception. Several factors, including time since conception and sampling variation, are relevant to the interpretation of an MR test. Particularly important is consideration of the "missingness" of genotypes that can be originated by chance, genotyping errors, or clinical ascertainment. Testing for Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium (HWE) is a genetic approach that permits evaluation of missingness. In this paper, the authors demonstrate evidence of nonconformity with HWE in real data. They also perform simulations to characterize the sensitivity of HWE tests to missingness. Unresolved missingness could lead to a false rejection of causality in an MR investigation of trait-disease association. These results indicate that large-scale studies, very high quality genotyping data, and detailed knowledge of the life-course genetics of the alleles/genotypes studied will largely mitigate this risk. The authors also present a Web program (http://www.oege.org/software/hwe-mr-calc.shtml) for estimating possible missingness and an approach to evaluating missingness under different genetic models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Causality
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Gene Frequency*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Molecular Epidemiology / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Software