J R Stat Soc Ser C Appl Stat. 2021 Nov;70(5):1391-1412. doi: 10.1111/rssc.12518. Epub 2021 Sep 12.
Causal mediation analysis aims to characterize an exposure’s effect on an outcome and quantify the indirect effect that acts through a given mediator or a group of mediators of interest. With the increasing availability of measurements on a large number of potential mediators, like the epigenome or the microbiome, new statistical methods are needed to simultaneously accommodate high-dimensional mediators while directly target penalization of the natural indirect effect (NIE) for active mediator identification. Here, we develop two novel prior models for identification of active mediators in high-dimensional mediation analysis through penalizing NIEs in a Bayesian paradigm. Both methods specify a joint prior distribution on the exposure-mediator effect and mediator-outcome effect with either (a) a four-component Gaussian mixture prior or (b) a product threshold Gaussian prior. By jointly modeling the two parameters that contribute to the NIE, the proposed methods enable penalization on their product in a targeted way. Resultant inference can take into account the four-component composite structure underlying the NIE. We show through simulations that the proposed methods improve both selection and estimation accuracy compared to other competing methods. We applied our methods for an in-depth analysis of two ongoing epidemiologic studies: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the LIFECODES birth cohort. The identified active mediators in both studies reveal important biological pathways for understanding disease mechanisms.