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Gene-lifestyle interactions in the genomics of human complex traits

Updated: May 29, 2023

Eur J Hum Genet

Laville V, Majarian T, Sung YJ, Schwander K, Feitosa MF, Chasman DI, Bentley AR, Rotimi CN, Cupples LA, de Vries PS, Brown MR, Morrison AC, Kraja AT, Province M, Gu CC, Gauderman WJ; CHARGE Gene-Lifestyle Interactions Working Group; Rao DC, Manning AK, Aschard H

The role and biological significance of gene-environment interactions in human traits and diseases remain poorly understood. To address these questions, the CHARGE Gene-Lifestyle Interactions Working Group conducted series of genome-wide interaction studies (GWIS) involving up to 610,475 individuals across four ancestries for three lipids and four blood pressure traits, while accounting for interaction effects with drinking and smoking exposures. Here we used GWIS summary statistics from these studies to decipher potential differences in genetic associations and G×E interactions across phenotype-exposure-ancestry combinations, and to derive insights on the potential mechanistic underlying G×E through in-silico functional analyses. Our analyses show first that interaction effects likely contribute to the commonly reported ancestry-specific genetic effect in complex traits, and second, that some phenotype-exposures pairs are more likely to benefit from a greater detection power when accounting for interactions. It also highlighted modest correlation between marginal and interaction effects, providing material for future methodological development and biological discussions. We also estimated contributions to phenotypic variance, including in particular the genetic heritability conditional on the exposure, and heritability partitioned across a range of functional annotations and cell types. In these analyses, we found multiple instances of potential heterogeneity of functional partitions between exposed and unexposed individuals, providing new evidence for likely exposure-specific genetic pathways. Finally, along this work, we identified potential biases in methods used to jointly meta-analyze genetic and interaction effects. We performed simulations to characterize these limitations and to provide the community with guidelines for future G×E studies.

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