The genetic epidemiology of idiopathic scoliosis

Eur Spine J. 2012 Oct;21(10):1905-19. doi: 10.1007/s00586-012-2389-6. Epub 2012 Jun 14.


Purpose: Idiopathic scoliosis is a complex developmental syndrome defined by an abnormal structural curvature of the spine. High treatment costs, chronic pain/discomfort, and the need for monitoring at-risk individuals contribute to the global healthcare burden of this musculoskeletal disease. Although many studies have endeavored to identify underlying genes, little progress has been made in understanding the etiopathogenesis. The objective of this comprehensive review was to summarize genetic associations/linkages with idiopathic scoliosis, as well as explore the strengths and weaknesses of each study, such that it may serve as a guide for the design and interpretation of future genetic studies in scoliosis.

Methods: We searched PubMed and Human Genome Epidemiology (HuGE) Navigator using the search terms "gene and scoliosis". Linkage or association studies published in English and available full-text were further analyzed as regards results, experimental design, and statistical approach.

Results: We identified and analyzed 50 studies matching our criteria. These consisted of 34 candidate gene studies (6 linkage, 28 association) and 16 genome-wide studies [14 pedigree-based linkage, 2 genome-wide association studies (GWAS)]. Findings involved genes related to connective tissue structure, bone formation/metabolism, melatonin signaling pathways, puberty and growth, and axon guidance pathways. Variability in results between studies suggested ethnic and/or genetic heterogeneity.

Conclusions: The major difficulty in idiopathic scoliosis research is phenotypic and genetic heterogeneity. Genetic research was overrepresented by underpowered studies. The use of biological endophenotypes, as well as restricted clinical definitions, may help to partition variation and increase the power of studies to detect or confirm an effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Scoliosis / epidemiology*
  • Scoliosis / genetics*