Tutorial: a guide to performing polygenic risk score analyses

Nat Protoc. 2020 Sep;15(9):2759-2772. doi: 10.1038/s41596-020-0353-1. Epub 2020 Jul 24.


A polygenic score (PGS) or polygenic risk score (PRS) is an estimate of an individual's genetic liability to a trait or disease, calculated according to their genotype profile and relevant genome-wide association study (GWAS) data. While present PRSs typically explain only a small fraction of trait variance, their correlation with the single largest contributor to phenotypic variation-genetic liability-has led to the routine application of PRSs across biomedical research. Among a range of applications, PRSs are exploited to assess shared etiology between phenotypes, to evaluate the clinical utility of genetic data for complex disease and as part of experimental studies in which, for example, experiments are performed that compare outcomes (e.g., gene expression and cellular response to treatment) between individuals with low and high PRS values. As GWAS sample sizes increase and PRSs become more powerful, PRSs are set to play a key role in research and stratified medicine. However, despite the importance and growing application of PRSs, there are limited guidelines for performing PRS analyses, which can lead to inconsistency between studies and misinterpretation of results. Here, we provide detailed guidelines for performing and interpreting PRS analyses. We outline standard quality control steps, discuss different methods for the calculation of PRSs, provide an introductory online tutorial, highlight common misconceptions relating to PRS results, offer recommendations for best practice and discuss future challenges.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Quality Control
  • Risk Assessment / methods*