Article

Gene-environment interactions for complex traits: Definitions, methodological requirements and challenges

Institute of Medical Biometry and Epidemiology, Philipps University Marburg, Marburg, Germany.
European Journal of HumanGenetics (Impact Factor: 4.23). 10/2008; 16(10):1164-72. DOI: 10.1038/ejhg.2008.106
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ABSTRACT Genetic and environmental risk factors and their interactions contribute to the development of complex diseases. In this review, we discuss methodological issues involved in investigating gene-environment (G x E) interactions in genetic-epidemiological studies of complex diseases and their potential relevance for clinical application. Although there are some important examples of interactions and applications, the widespread use of the knowledge about G x E interaction for targeted intervention or personalized treatment (pharmacogenetics) is still beyond current means. This is due to the fact that convincing evidence and high predictive or discriminative power are necessary conditions for usefulness in clinical practice. We attempt to clarify conceptual differences of the term 'interaction' in the statistical and biological sciences, since precise definitions are important for the interpretation of results. We argue that the investigation of G x E interactions is more rewarding for the detailed characterization of identified disease genes (ie at advanced stages of genetic research) and the stratified analysis of environmental effects by genotype or vice versa. Advantages and disadvantages of different epidemiological study designs are given and sample size requirements are exemplified. These issues as well as a critical appraisal of common methodological concerns are finally discussed.

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