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Hum Genet. 2013 May;132(5):495-508. doi: 10.1007/s00439-012-1258-z. Epub 2013 Jan 20.

Systematic identification of interaction effects between genome- and environment-wide associations in type 2 diabetes mellitus.

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  • 1Division of Systems Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 1265 Welch Road, Room X-163 MS-5415, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Diseases such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) result from environmental and genetic factors, and risk varies considerably in the population. T2D-related genetic loci discovered to date explain only a small portion of the T2D heritability. Some heritability may be due to gene-environment interactions. However, documenting these interactions has been difficult due to low availability of concurrent genetic and environmental measures, selection bias, and challenges in controlling for multiple hypothesis testing. Through genome-wide association studies (GWAS), investigators have identified over 90 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated to T2D. Using a method analogous to GWAS [environment-wide association study (EWAS)], we found five environmental factors associated with the disease. By focusing on risk factors that emerge from GWAS and EWAS, it is possible to overcome difficulties in uncovering gene-environment interactions. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), we screened 18 SNPs and 5 serum-based environmental factors for interaction in association to T2D. We controlled for multiple hypotheses using false discovery rate (FDR) and Bonferroni correction and found four interactions with FDR <20 %. The interaction between rs13266634 (SLC30A8) and trans-β-carotene withstood Bonferroni correction (corrected p = 0.006, FDR <1.5 %). The per-risk-allele effect sizes in subjects with low levels of trans-β-carotene were 40 % greater than the marginal effect size [odds ratio (OR) 1.8, 95 % CI 1.3-2.6]. We hypothesize that impaired function driven by rs13266634 increases T2D risk when combined with serum levels of nutrients. Unbiased consideration of environmental and genetic factors may help identify larger and more relevant effect sizes for disease associations.

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