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Am J Epidemiol. 2001 May 15;153(10):1016-20.

Commentary: facing the challenge of gene-environment interaction: the two-by-four table and beyond.

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  • 1Birth Defects and Genetic Diseases Branch, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA.


As a result of the Human Genome Project, epidemiologists can study thousands of genes and their interaction with the environment. The challenge is how to best present and analyze such studies of multiple genetic and environmental factors. The authors suggest emphasizing the fundamental core of gene-environment interaction-the separate assessment of the effects of individual and joint risk factors. In the simple analysis of one genotype and an exposure (both dichotomous), such study can be summarized in a two-by-four table. The advantages of such a table for data presentation and analysis are many: The table displays the data efficiently and highlights sample size issues; it allows for evaluation of the independent and joint roles of genotype and exposure on disease risk; and it emphasizes effect estimation over model testing. Researchers can easily estimate relative risks and attributable fractions and test different models of interaction. The two-by-four table is a useful tool for presenting, analyzing, and synthesizing data on gene-environment interaction. To highlight the role of gene-environment interaction in disease causation, the authors propose that the two-by-four table is the fundamental unit of epidemiologic analysis.

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