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Mendelian randomization (MR) uses genetic variants as instrumental variables to infer whether a risk factor causally affects a health outcome. Meta-analysis has been used historically in MR to combine results from separate epidemiological studies, with each study using a small but select group of genetic variants. In recent years, it has been used to combine genome-wide association study (GWAS) summary data for large numbers of genetic variants. Heterogeneity among the causal estimates obtained from multiple genetic variants points to a possible violation of the necessary instrumental variable assumptions. In this article, we provide a basic introduction to MR and the instrumental variable theory that it relies upon. We then describe how random effects models, meta-regression, and robust regression are being used to test and adjust for heterogeneity in order to improve the rigor of the MR approach.

Original publication




Journal article


Res Synth Methods

Publication Date



Mendelian randomization, meta-analysis, pleiotropy, two-sample summary data MR