Meta-analysis for individual participant data with a continuous exposure: A case study

Darsy Darssan, Gita D. Mishra, Darren C. Greenwood, Sven Sandin, Eric J. Brunner, Sybil L. Crawford, Samar R.El Khoudary, Maria Mori Brooks, Ellen B. Gold, Mette Kildevæld Simonsen, Hsin Fang Chung, Elisabete Weiderpass, Annette J. Dobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Methods for meta-analysis of studies with individual participant data and continuous exposure variables are well described in the statistical literature but are not widely used in clinical and epidemiological research. The purpose of this case study is to make the methods more accessible. Study Design and Setting: A two-stage process is demonstrated. Response curves are estimated separately for each study using fractional polynomials. The study-specific curves are then averaged pointwise over all studies at each value of the exposure. The averaging can be implemented using fixed effects or random effects methods. Results: The methodology is illustrated using samples of real data with continuous outcome and exposure data and several covariates. The sample data set, segments of Stata and R code, and outputs are provided to enable replication of the results. Conclusion: These methods and tools can be adapted to other situations, including for time-to-event or categorical outcomes, different ways of modelling exposure-outcome curves, and different strategies for covariate adjustment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-92
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Continuous variables
  • Fractional polynomials
  • Individual participant data
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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