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In polygenic score (PGS) analysis, the coefficient of determination (R2) is a key statistic to evaluate efficacy. R2 is the proportion of phenotypic variance explained by the PGS, calculated in a cohort that is independent of the genome-wide association study (GWAS) that provided estimates of allelic effect sizes. The SNP-based heritability (hSNP2, the proportion of total phenotypic variances attributable to all common SNPs) is the theoretical upper limit of the out-of-sample prediction R2. However, in real data analyses R2 has been reported to exceed hSNP2 , which occurs in parallel with the observation that hSNP2 estimates tend to decline as the number of cohorts being meta-analyzed increases. Here, we quantify why and when these observations are expected. Using theory and simulation, we show that if heterogeneities in cohort-specific hSNP2 exist, or if genetic correlations between cohorts are less than one, hSNP2 estimates can decrease as the number of cohorts being meta-analyzed increases. We derive conditions when the out-of-sample prediction R2 will be greater than hSNP2 and show the validity of our derivations with real data from a binary trait (major depression) and a continuous trait (educational attainment). Our research calls for a better approach to integrating information from multiple cohorts to address issues of between-cohort heterogeneity.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Hum Genet

Publication Date



SNP-based heritability, meta-analysis, out-of-sample prediction R(2), polygenic risk prediction