Approaches to identify genes for complex human diseases: lessons from Mendelian disorders

Hum Mutat. 2003 Oct;22(4):261-74. doi: 10.1002/humu.10259.


The focus of most molecular genetics research is the identification of genes involved in human disease. In the 20th century, genetics progressed from the rediscovery of Mendel's Laws to the identification of nearly every Mendelian genetic disease. At this pace, the genetic component of all complex human diseases could be identified by the end of the 21st century, and rational therapies could be developed. However, it is clear that no one approach will identify the genes for all diseases with a genetic component, because multiple mechanisms are involved in altering human phenotypes, including common alleles with small to moderate effects, rare alleles with moderate to large effects, complex gene-gene and gene-environment interactions, genomic alterations, and noninherited genetic effects. The knowledge gained from the study of Mendelian diseases may be applied to future research that combines linkage-based, association-based, and sequence-based approaches to detect most disease alleles. The technology to complete these studies is at hand and requires that modest improvements be applied on a wide scale. Improved analytical tools, phenotypic characterizations, and functional analyses will enable complete understanding of the genetic basis of complex diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / diagnosis
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / etiology
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Techniques*
  • Genome, Human
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype