Journal Article

Gene–environment studies: any advantage over environmental studies?

Justo Lorenzo Bermejo and Kari Hemminki

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 28, issue 7, pages 1526-1532
Published in print July 2007 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online March 2007 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/carcin/bgm068
Gene–environment studies: any advantage over environmental studies?

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Gene–environment studies have been motivated by the likely existence of prevalent low-risk genes that interact with common environmental exposures. The present study assessed the statistical advantage of the simultaneous consideration of genes and environment to investigate the effect of environmental risk factors on disease. In particular, we contemplated the possibility that several genes modulate the environmental effect. Environmental exposures, genotypes and phenotypes were simulated according to a wide range of parameter settings. Different models of gene–gene–environment interaction were considered. For each parameter combination, we estimated the probability of detecting the main environmental effect, the power to identify the gene–environment interaction and the frequency of environmentally affected individuals at which environmental and gene–environment studies show the same statistical power. The proportion of cases in the population attributable to the modeled risk factors was also calculated. Our data indicate that environmental exposures with weak effects may account for a significant proportion of the population prevalence of the disease. A general result was that, if the environmental effect was restricted to rare genotypes, the power to detect the gene–environment interaction was higher than the power to identify the main environmental effect. In other words, when few individuals contribute to the overall environmental effect, individual contributions are large and result in easily identifiable gene–environment interactions. Moreover, when multiple genes interacted with the environment, the statistical benefit of gene–environment studies was limited to those studies that included major contributors to the gene–environment interaction. The advantage of gene–environment over plain environmental studies also depends on the inheritance mode of the involved genes, on the study design and, to some extend, on the disease prevalence.

Journal Article.  4421 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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