Complex phenotypes and complex genetics: an introduction to genetic studies of complex traits

Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2005 May;7(3):180-7. doi: 10.1007/s11883-005-0004-6.


There is currently intense interest in the genetic factors contributing to many diseases with cardiovascular complications. Diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and hypertension are referred to as complex traits because multiple genes contribute to the phenotype either individually or through interactions with each other or the environment. Enabled and energized by the striking successes over the past 20 years in identifying genes that are responsible for single gene traits, many geneticists have turned to the investigation of methods that will allow for the dissection of complex traits. There have already been some successes, so there is no reason to consider the problem as inherently intractable. However, it is important to reflect on what conditions are necessary for the identification of genes that operate in complex traits. A recurring theme in this research area has been difficulty in repeating and validating research findings, and this most often can be attributed to limitations in study design. It is also important to consider that any particular research strategy can only hope to describe a portion of factors that contribute to variation in the population; therefore, the genetic approach cannot be a panacea. New efficient technologies for genotyping and public databases describing the fine structure of genetic correlations in the genome should aid many aspects of the gene discovery process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics*
  • Phenotype*
  • Research Design*