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 PLOS ONE , 2012, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037465 Abstract: Background Mendelian randomization (MR) studies use genetic variants mimicking the influence of a modifiable exposure to assess and quantify a causal association with an outcome, with an aim to avoid problems with confounding and reverse causality affecting other types of observational studies. Aim We evaluated genetic markers that index differences in 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) as instruments for MR studies on vitamin D. Methods and Findings We used data from up-to 6,877 participants in the 1958 British birth cohort with information on genetic markers and 25(OH)D. As potential instruments, we selected 20 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) which are located in the vitamin D metabolism pathway or affect skin pigmentation/tanning, including 4 SNPs from genome-wide association (GWA) meta-analyses on 25(OH)D. We analyzed SNP associations with 25(OH)D and evaluated the use of allele scores dividing genes to those affecting 25(OH)D synthesis (DHCR7, CYP2R1) and metabolism (GC, CYP24A1, CYP27B1). In addition to the GWA SNPs, only two SNPs (CYP27B1, OCA2) showed evidence for association with 25(OH)D, with the OCA2 association abolished after lifestyle adjustment. Per allele differences varied between ？0.02 and ？0.08 nmol/L (P≤0.02 for all), with a 6.1 nmol/L and a 10.2 nmol/L difference in 25(OH)D between individuals with highest compared lowest number of risk alleles in synthesis and metabolism allele scores, respectively. Individual SNPs but not allele scores showed associations with lifestyle factors. An exception was geographical region which was associated with synthesis score. Illustrative power calculations (80% power, 5% alpha) suggest that approximately 80,000 participants are required to establish a causal effect of vitamin D on blood pressure using the synthesis allele score. Conclusions Combining SNPs into allele scores provides a more powerful instrument for MR analysis than a single SNP in isolation. Population stratification and the potential for pleiotropic effects need to be considered in MR studies on vitamin D.
 PLOS Medicine , 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001866 Abstract: Background Observational studies have demonstrated an association between decreased vitamin D level and risk of multiple sclerosis (MS); however, it remains unclear whether this relationship is causal. We undertook a Mendelian randomization (MR) study to evaluate whether genetically lowered vitamin D level influences the risk of MS. Methods and Findings We identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) level from SUNLIGHT, the largest (n = 33,996) genome-wide association study to date for vitamin D. Four SNPs were genome-wide significant for 25OHD level (p-values ranging from 6 × 10？10 to 2 × 10？109), and all four SNPs lay in, or near, genes strongly implicated in separate mechanisms influencing 25OHD. We then ascertained their effect on 25OHD level in 2,347 participants from a population-based cohort, the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study, and tested the extent to which the 25OHD-decreasing alleles explained variation in 25OHD level. We found that the count of 25OHD-decreasing alleles across these four SNPs was strongly associated with lower 25OHD level (n = 2,347, F-test statistic = 49.7, p = 2.4 × 10？12). Next, we conducted an MR study to describe the effect of genetically lowered 25OHD on the odds of MS in the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium study, the largest genetic association study to date for MS (including up to 14,498 cases and 24,091 healthy controls). Alleles were weighted by their relative effect on 25OHD level, and sensitivity analyses were performed to test MR assumptions. MR analyses found that each genetically determined one-standard-deviation decrease in log-transformed 25OHD level conferred a 2.0-fold increase in the odds of MS (95% CI: 1.7–2.5; p = 7.7 × 10？12; I2 = 63%, 95% CI: 0%–88%). This result persisted in sensitivity analyses excluding SNPs possibly influenced by population stratification or pleiotropy (odds ratio [OR] = 1.7, 95% CI: 1.3–2.2; p = 2.3 × 10？5; I2 = 47%, 95% CI: 0%–85%) and including only SNPs involved in 25OHD synthesis or metabolism (ORsynthesis = 2.1, 95% CI: 1.6–2.6, p = 1 × 10？9; ORmetabolism = 1.9, 95% CI: 1.3–2.7, p = 0.002). While these sensitivity analyses decreased the possibility that pleiotropy may have biased the results, residual pleiotropy is difficult to exclude entirely. Conclusions A genetically lowered 25OHD level is strongly associated with increased susceptibility to MS. Whether vitamin D sufficiency can delay, or prevent, MS onset merits further investigation in long-term randomized controlled trials.
 PLOS Medicine , 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001383 Abstract: Background Obesity is associated with vitamin D deficiency, and both are areas of active public health concern. We explored the causality and direction of the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] using genetic markers as instrumental variables (IVs) in bi-directional Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis. Methods and Findings We used information from 21 adult cohorts (up to 42,024 participants) with 12 BMI-related SNPs (combined in an allelic score) to produce an instrument for BMI and four SNPs associated with 25(OH)D (combined in two allelic scores, separately for genes encoding its synthesis or metabolism) as an instrument for vitamin D. Regression estimates for the IVs (allele scores) were generated within-study and pooled by meta-analysis to generate summary effects. Associations between vitamin D scores and BMI were confirmed in the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium (n = 123,864). Each 1 kg/m2 higher BMI was associated with 1.15% lower 25(OH)D (p = 6.52×10？27). The BMI allele score was associated both with BMI (p = 6.30×10？62) and 25(OH)D (？0.06% [95% CI ？0.10 to ？0.02], p = 0.004) in the cohorts that underwent meta-analysis. The two vitamin D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D (p≤8.07×10？57 for both scores) but not with BMI (synthesis score, p = 0.88; metabolism score, p = 0.08) in the meta-analysis. A 10% higher genetically instrumented BMI was associated with 4.2% lower 25(OH)D concentrations (IV ratio: ？4.2 [95% CI ？7.1 to ？1.3], p = 0.005). No association was seen for genetically instrumented 25(OH)D with BMI, a finding that was confirmed using data from the GIANT consortium (p≥0.57 for both vitamin D scores). Conclusions On the basis of a bi-directional genetic approach that limits confounding, our study suggests that a higher BMI leads to lower 25(OH)D, while any effects of lower 25(OH)D increasing BMI are likely to be small. Population level interventions to reduce BMI are expected to decrease the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
 PLOS Medicine , 2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001751 Abstract: Background Observational studies have shown that vitamin D binding protein (DBP) levels, a key determinant of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25OHD) levels, and 25OHD levels themselves both associate with risk of disease. If 25OHD levels have a causal influence on disease, and DBP lies in this causal pathway, then DBP levels should likewise be causally associated with disease. We undertook a Mendelian randomization study to determine whether DBP levels have causal effects on common calcemic and cardiometabolic disease. Methods and Findings We measured DBP and 25OHD levels in 2,254 individuals, followed for up to 10 y, in the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos). Using the single nucleotide polymorphism rs2282679 as an instrumental variable, we applied Mendelian randomization methods to determine the causal effect of DBP on calcemic (osteoporosis and hyperparathyroidism) and cardiometabolic diseases (hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and stroke) and related traits, first in CaMos and then in large-scale genome-wide association study consortia. The effect allele was associated with an age- and sex-adjusted decrease in DBP level of 27.4 mg/l (95% CI 24.7, 30.0; n = 2,254). DBP had a strong observational and causal association with 25OHD levels (p = 3.2×10？19). While DBP levels were observationally associated with calcium and body mass index (BMI), these associations were not supported by causal analyses. Despite well-powered sample sizes from consortia, there were no associations of rs2282679 with any other traits and diseases: fasting glucose (0.00 mmol/l [95% CI ？0.01, 0.01]; p = 1.00; n = 46,186); fasting insulin (0.01 pmol/l [95% CI ？0.00, 0.01,]; p = 0.22; n = 46,186); BMI (0.00 kg/m2 [95% CI ？0.01, 0.01]; p = 0.80; n = 127,587); bone mineral density (0.01 g/cm2 [95% CI ？0.01, 0.03]; p = 0.36; n = 32,961); mean arterial pressure (？0.06 mm Hg [95% CI ？0.19, 0.07]); p = 0.36; n = 28,775); ischemic stroke (odds ratio [OR] = 1.00 [95% CI 0.97, 1.04]; p = 0.92; n = 12,389/62,004 cases/controls); coronary artery disease (OR = 1.02 [95% CI 0.99, 1.05]; p = 0.31; n = 22,233/64,762); or type 2 diabetes (OR = 1.01 [95% CI 0.97, 1.05]; p = 0.76; n = 9,580/53,810). Conclusions DBP has no demonstrable causal effect on any of the diseases or traits investigated here, except 25OHD levels. It remains to be determined whether 25OHD has a causal effect on these outcomes independent of DBP. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
 PLOS ONE , 2012, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037662 Abstract: Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with several common diseases, including cancer and is being investigated as a possible risk factor for these conditions. We reported the striking prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in Scotland. Previous epidemiological studies have reported an association between low dietary vitamin D and colorectal cancer (CRC). Using a case-control study design, we tested the association between plasma 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25-OHD) and CRC (2,001 cases, 2,237 controls). To determine whether plasma 25-OHD levels are causally linked to CRC risk, we applied the control function instrumental variable (IV) method of the Mendelian randomization (MR) approach using four single nucleotide polymorphisms (rs2282679, rs12785878, rs10741657, rs6013897) previously shown to be associated with plasma 25-OHD. Low plasma 25-OHD levels were associated with CRC risk in the crude model (odds ratio (OR): 0.76, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 0.71, 0.81, p: 1.4×10？14) and after adjusting for age, sex and other confounding factors. Using an allele score that combined all four SNPs as the IV, the estimated causal effect was OR 1.16 (95% CI 0.60, 2.23), whilst it was 0.94 (95% CI 0.46, 1.91) and 0.93 (0.53, 1.63) when using an upstream (rs12785878, rs10741657) and a downstream allele score (rs2282679, rs6013897), respectively. 25-OHD levels were inversely associated with CRC risk, in agreement with recent meta-analyses. The fact that this finding was not replicated when the MR approach was employed might be due to weak instruments, giving low power to demonstrate an effect (<0.35). The prevalence and degree of vitamin D deficiency amongst individuals living in northerly latitudes is of considerable importance because of its relationship to disease. To elucidate the effect of vitamin D on CRC cancer risk, additional large studies of vitamin D and CRC risk are required and/or the application of alternative methods that are less sensitive to weak instrument restrictions.
 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health , 2010, DOI: 10.3390/ijerph7030711 Abstract: Mendelian randomization refers to the random allocation of alleles at the time of gamete formation. In observational epidemiology, this refers to the use of genetic variants to estimate a causal effect between a modifiable risk factor and an outcome of interest. In this review, we recall the principles of a “Mendelian randomization” approach in observational epidemiology, which is based on the technique of instrumental variables; we provide simulations and an example based on real data to demonstrate its implications; we present the results of a systematic search on original articles having used this approach; and we discuss some limitations of this approach in view of what has been found so far.
 PLOS ONE , 2012, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051084 Abstract: Vitamin B-12 is essential for the development and maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Brain development occurs primarily in utero and early infancy, but the role of maternal vitamin B-12 status during pregnancy on offspring cognitive function is unclear. In this study we assessed the effect of vitamin B-12 status in well-nourished pregnant women on the cognitive ability of their offspring in a UK birth cohort (ALSPAC). We then examined the association of SNPs in maternal genes FUT2 (rs492602) and TCN2 (rs1801198, rs9606756) that are related to plasma vitamin B-12, with offspring IQ. Observationally, there was a positive association between maternal vitamin B-12 intake and child’s IQ that was markedly attenuated after adjustment for potential confounders (mean difference in offspring IQ score per doubling of maternal B-12 intake, before adjustment: 2.0 (95% CI 1.3, 2.8); after adjustment: 0.7 (95% CI ？0.04, 1.4)). Maternal FUT2 was weakly associated with offspring IQ: mean difference in IQ per allele was 0.9 (95% CI 0.1, 1.6). The expected effect of maternal vitamin B-12 on offspring IQ, given the relationships between SNPs and vitamin B-12, and SNPs and IQ was consistent with the observational result. Our findings suggest that maternal vitamin B-12 may not have an important effect on offspring cognitive ability. However, further examination of this issue is warranted.
 Emerging Themes in Epidemiology , 2009, DOI: 10.1186/1742-7622-6-3 Abstract: Mendelian randomization studies using instrumental variables (IVs) have the potential to avoid some of the limitations of observational epidemiology (confounding, reverse causality, regression dilution bias) for making causal inferences. Certain limitations of randomized controlled trials, such as problems with generalizability, feasibility and ethics for some exposures, and high costs, also make the use of Mendelian randomization in observational studies attractive. Unlike conventional randomized controlled trials (RCTs), Mendelian randomization studies can be conducted in a representative sample without imposing any exclusion criteria or requiring volunteers to be amenable to random treatment allocation.Within the last decade, epigenetics has gained recognition as an independent field of study, and appears to be the new direction for future research into the genetics of complex diseases. Although previous articles have addressed some of the limitations of Mendelian randomization (such as the lack of suitable genetic variants, unreliable associations, population stratification, linkage disequilibrium (LD), pleiotropy, developmental canalization, the need for large sample sizes and some potential problems with binary outcomes), none has directly characterized the impact of epigenetics on Mendelian randomization. The possibility of epigenetic effects (non-Mendelian, heritable changes in gene expression not accompanied by alterations in DNA sequence) could alter the core instrumental variable assumptions of Mendelian randomization.This paper applies conceptual considerations, algebraic derivations and data simulations to question the appropriateness of Mendelian randomization methods when epigenetic modifications are present.Given an inheritance of gene expression from parents, Mendelian randomization studies not only need to assume a random distribution of alleles in the offspring, but also a random distribution of epigenetic changes (e.g. gene expression) at concept
 Statistics , 2014, Abstract: Instrumental variables have been widely used for estimating the causal effect between exposure and outcome. Conventional estimation methods require complete knowledge about all the instruments' validity; a valid instrument must not have a direct effect on the outcome and not be related to unmeasured confounders. Often, this is impractical as highlighted by Mendelian randomization studies where genetic markers are used as instruments and complete knowledge about instruments' validity is equivalent to complete knowledge about the involved genes' functions. In this paper, we propose a method for estimation of causal effects when this complete knowledge is absent. It is shown that causal effects are identified and can be estimated as long as less than $50$% of instruments are invalid, without knowing which of the instruments are invalid. We also introduce conditions for identification when the 50% threshold is violated. A fast penalized $\ell_1$ estimation method, called sisVIVE, is introduced for estimating the causal effect without knowing which instruments are valid, with theoretical guarantees on its performance. The proposed method is demonstrated on simulated data and a real Mendelian randomization study concerning the effect of body mass index on health-related quality of life index. An R package \emph{sisVIVE} is available online.
 PLOS ONE , 2011, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021689 Abstract: Smokers have a higher prevalence of major depressive episodes and depressive symptoms than the general population, but whether this association is causal, or is due to confounding or reverse causation is uncertain because of the problems inherent in some epidemiological studies. Mendelian randomization, in which a genetic variant is used as a surrogate for measuring exposure, is an approach which may be used to better understand this association. We investigated the rs1051730 single nucleotide polymorphism in the nicotine acetylcholine receptor gene cluster (CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4), associated with smoking phenotypes, to determine whether women who continued to smoke were also more likely to report a low mood during pregnancy. We found among women who smoked pre-pregnancy, those with the 1051730 T allele smoked more and were less likely to quit smoking during pregnancy, but were also less likely to report high levels of depressed mood at 18 weeks of pregnancy (per allele OR = 0.84, 95%CI 0.72 to 0.99, p = 0.034). The association between genotype and depressed mood was limited to women who were smokers prior to pregnancy, with weak evidence of an interaction between smoking status and genotype (p = 0.07). Our results do not support a causal role of smoking on depressed mood, but are consistent with a self-medication hypothesis, whereby smoking is used to alleviate symptoms of depression. A replication study using multiple genetic variants which influence smoking via different pathways is required to confirm these findings and provide evidence that the genetic variant is reflecting the effect of quitting smoking on depressed mood, and is not directly affecting mood.
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