Asthma genetics and intermediate phenotypes: a review from twin studies

Twin Res. 2001 Apr;4(2):81-93. doi: 10.1375/1369052012191.


It has been long recognised that asthma and related phenotypes have an important hereditary nature, in which inheritance does not follow the classical Mendelian patterns and the exact mode of inheritance is not known. Linkage, association studies and genome-wide screening suggest that many genes are involved in the pathogenesis of asthma. Twin studies have contributed significantly to our understanding on the genetics of asthma, especially the large-scale twin studies in different parts of the world which have showed comparable results. With the shortcomings of the twin method borne in mind, more twin studies are needed to investigate the heredity component of the intermediate phenotypes of asthma, that is, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, total immunoglobulin E, skin test reactivity, specific IgE against different aeroallergens, and the variability of lung function. Twin studies are very suitable to unravel the intricate network of genes and environment which plays a role in asthma. Monozygotic twins and the co-twin control design are suitable for this purpose, while longitudinal twin studies are needed to solve the problem of the age related expression of genes which probably are involved in the pathogenesis of asthma. In the near future twin studies will play an important role in the detection of new, as yet undiscovered genes, but may be even more important in answering the most challenging of all questions: how do the environment interact with the genetics of asthma? Exchange of information and collaboration between the different research groups involved in the genetics of asthma will contribute to a better understanding of this condition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / genetics*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / physiopathology
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Immunoglobulin E / immunology
  • Lung / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Skin Tests
  • Twin Studies as Topic


  • Immunoglobulin E