Tests for gene-environment interaction from case-control data: a novel study of type I error, power and designs

Genet Epidemiol. 2008 Nov;32(7):615-26. doi: 10.1002/gepi.20337.


To evaluate the risk of a disease associated with the joint effects of genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures, epidemiologic researchers often test for non-multiplicative gene-environment effects from case-control studies. In this article, we present a comparative study of four alternative tests for interactions: (i) the standard case-control method; (ii) the case-only method, which requires an assumption of gene-environment independence for the underlying population; (iii) a two-step method that decides between the case-only and case-control estimators depending on a statistical test for the gene-environment independence assumption and (iv) a novel empirical-Bayes (EB) method that combines the case-control and case-only estimators depending on the sample size and strength of the gene-environment association in the data. We evaluate the methods in terms of integrated Type I error and power, averaged with respect to varying scenarios for gene-environment association that are likely to appear in practice. These unique studies suggest that the novel EB procedure overall is a promising approach for detection of gene-environment interactions from case-control studies. In particular, the EB procedure, unlike the case-only or two-step methods, can closely maintain a desired Type I error under realistic scenarios of gene-environment dependence and yet can be substantially more powerful than the traditional case-control analysis when the gene-environment independence assumption is satisfied, exactly or approximately. Our studies also reveal potential utility of some non-traditional case-control designs that samples controls at a smaller rate than the cases. Apart from the simulation studies, we also illustrate the different methods by analyzing interactions of two commonly studied genes, N-acetyl transferase type 2 and glutathione s-transferase M1, with smoking and dietary exposures, in a large case-control study of colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Environment
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Epidemiology / standards
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design
  • Risk Factors