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Determinants of Successful Aging: Developing an Integrated Research Agenda for the 21st Century |

Gene–Environment Interactions and the Etiology of Common Complex Disease

Richard S. Cooper, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

From Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Illinois.


Grant Support: By grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL 45508 and HL 47910) and the Donald W. Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at the Dallas/University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: Richard S. Cooper, MD, Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, 2160 South First Avenue, Maywood, IL 60153.


Ann Intern Med. 2003;139(5_Part_2):437-440. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-139-5_Part_2-200309021-00011
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The technology that makes it possible to define DNA variants associated with human disease has opened a new universe of research opportunities. All organisms represent the expression of an encrypted genetic message in a particular environment. If we discount the minimal contribution of random processes that occur during development of an organism, the DNA sequence and the local environmental conditions theoretically include all the information necessary to explain life forms. These abstract generalities stand at a great distance from practical biology, however, given the complexity of the intervening steps. Nonetheless, the ability to genotype efficiently on a large scale has generated intense interest in conducting epidemiologic studies that simultaneously measure genetic and environmental effects and account for their interactions. If this approach is successful, it is hoped that the scope of research opportunities on basic public health questions such as healthy aging will be substantially increased.

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Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1. The design of this experiment asks whether organisms with different genotypes (that is, AA vs aa) undergo a shift in the relative relationship between their expressed phenotypes when the environment changes.
Gene–environment interaction.
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Grahic Jump Location
Figure 2.
Response of longevity to density treatment for strains ofDrosophila melanogasterselected for short and long life spans and for F 1 hybrids.
Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Figure 3. Gene–environment interactions. Alternative environmental explanation.
Explanations of racial and ethnic differentials.Top.Bottom.
Grahic Jump Location

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