Application of Mendelian randomization to explore the causal role of the human gut microbiome in colorectal cancer.


Charlie Hatcher, George Richenberg, Samuel Waterson, Long H Nguyen, Amit D Joshi, Robert Carreras-Torres, Victor Moreno, Andrew T Chan, Marc Gunter, Yi Lin, Conghui Qu, Mingyang Song, Graham Casey, Jane C Figueiredo, Stephen B Gruber, Jochen Hampe, Heather Hampel, Mark A Jenkins, Temitope O Keku, Ulrike Peters, Catherine M Tangen, Anna H Wu, David A Hughes, Malte C Rühlemann, Jeroen Raes, Nicholas J Timpson, Kaitlin H Wade

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The role of the human gut microbiome in colorectal cancer (CRC) is unclear as most studies on the topic are unable to discern correlation from causation. We apply two-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) to estimate the causal relationship between the gut microbiome and CRC. We used summary-level data from independent genome-wide association studies to estimate the causal effect of 14 microbial traits (n = 3890 individuals) on overall CRC (55,168 cases, 65,160 controls) and site-specific CRC risk, conducting several sensitivity analyses to understand the nature of results. Initial MR analysis suggested that a higher abundance of Bifidobacterium and presence of an unclassified group of bacteria within the Bacteroidales order in the gut increased overall and site-specific CRC risk. However, sensitivity analyses suggested that instruments used to estimate relationships were likely complex and involved in many potential horizontal pleiotropic pathways, demonstrating that caution is needed when interpreting MR analyses with gut microbiome exposures. In assessing reverse causality, we did not find strong evidence that CRC causally affected these microbial traits. Whilst our study initially identified potential causal roles for two microbial traits in CRC, importantly, further exploration of these relationships highlighted that these were unlikely to reflect causality.