Nature and nurture: the complex genetics of myopia and refractive error

Clin Genet. 2011 Apr;79(4):301-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2010.01592.x. Epub 2010 Dec 13.


The refractive errors, myopia and hyperopia, are optical defects of the visual system that can cause blurred vision. Uncorrected refractive errors are the most common causes of visual impairment worldwide. It is estimated that 2.5 billion people will be affected by myopia alone within the next decade. Experimental, epidemiological and clinical research has shown that refractive development is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. Animal models have showed that eye growth and refractive maturation during infancy are tightly regulated by visually guided mechanisms. Observational data in human populations provide compelling evidence that environmental influences and individual behavioral factors play crucial roles in myopia susceptibility. Nevertheless, the majority of the variance of refractive error within populations is thought to be because of hereditary factors. Genetic linkage studies have mapped two dozen loci, while association studies have implicated more than 25 different genes in refractive variation. Many of these genes are involved in common biological pathways known to mediate extracellular matrix (ECM) composition and regulate connective tissue remodeling. Other associated genomic regions suggest novel mechanisms in the etiology of human myopia, such as mitochondrial-mediated cell death or photoreceptor-mediated visual signal transmission. Taken together, observational and experimental studies have revealed the complex nature of human refractive variation, which likely involves variants in several genes and functional pathways. Multiway interactions between genes and/or environmental factors may also be important in determining individual risks of myopia, and may help explain the complex pattern of refractive error in human populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Environment
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Hyperopia / etiology
  • Hyperopia / genetics*
  • Myopia / etiology
  • Myopia / genetics*
  • Refractive Errors / etiology
  • Refractive Errors / genetics*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors