FOLD: a method to optimize power in meta-analysis of genetic association studies with overlapping subjects

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In genetic association studies, meta-analyses are widely used to increase the statistical power by aggregating information from multiple studies. In meta-analyses, participating studies often share the same individuals due to the shared use of publicly available control data or accidental recruiting of the same subjects. As such overlapping can inflate false positive rate, overlapping subjects are traditionally split in the studies prior to meta-analysis, which requires access to genotype data and is not always possible. Fortunately, recently developed meta-analysis methods can systematically account for overlapping subjects at the summary statistics level.


We identify and report a phenomenon that these methods for overlapping subjects can yield low power. For instance, in our simulation involving a meta-analysis of five studies that share 20% of individuals, whereas the traditional splitting method achieved 80% power, none of the new methods exceeded 32% power. We found that this low power resulted from the unaccounted differences between shared and unshared individuals in terms of their contributions towards the final statistic. Here, we propose an optimal summary-statistic-based method termed as FOLD that increases the power of meta-analysis involving studies with overlapping subjects.

Availability and implementation:

Our method is available at



Supplementary information:

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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