Gene-environment interactions in asthma

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Jan;123(1):3-11; quiz 12-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2008.10.046.


Asthma is a complex disease, and its incidence is determined by an intricate interplay of genetic and environmental factors. The identification of novel genes for asthma suggests that many genes with small effects rather than few genes with strong effects contribute to the development of asthma. These genetic effects may in part differ with respect to a subject's environmental exposures, although some genes may also exert their effect independently of the environment. Whereas the geneticist uses highly advanced, rapid, comprehensive technologies to assess even subtle changes in the human genome, the researcher interested in environmental exposures is often confronted with crude information obtained from questionnaires or interviews. There is thus substantial need to develop better tools for individual exposure assessment in all relevant environmental fields. Despite these limitations, a number of important gene-environment interactions have been identified. These interactions point to the biology of environmental exposures as the involved genetic variation is suggestive of certain underlying mechanisms. Furthermore, the identification of subjects who are particularly susceptible to environmental hazards through genetic analyses helps to estimate better the strength of effect of environmental exposures. Finally, the analysis of gene-environment interactions may result in a reconciliation of seemingly contradictory findings from studies not taking environmental exposures into account.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Asthma / genetics*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans