Digenic inheritance in medical genetics

J Med Genet. 2013 Oct;50(10):641-52. doi: 10.1136/jmedgenet-2013-101713. Epub 2013 Jun 19.


Digenic inheritance (DI) is the simplest form of inheritance for genetically complex diseases. By contrast with the thousands of reports that mutations in single genes cause human diseases, there are only dozens of human disease phenotypes with evidence for DI in some pedigrees. The advent of high-throughput sequencing (HTS) has made it simpler to identify monogenic disease causes and could similarly simplify proving DI because one can simultaneously find mutations in two genes in the same sample. However, through 2012, I could find only one example of human DI in which HTS was used; in that example, HTS found only the second of the two genes. To explore the gap between expectation and reality, I tried to collect all examples of human DI with a narrow definition and characterise them according to the types of evidence collected, and whether there has been replication. Two strong trends are that knowledge of candidate genes and knowledge of protein-protein interactions (PPIs) have been helpful in most published examples of human DI. By contrast, the positional method of genetic linkage analysis, has been mostly unsuccessful in identifying genes underlying human DI. Based on the empirical data, I suggest that combining HTS with growing networks of established PPIs may expedite future discoveries of human DI and strengthen the evidence for them.

Keywords: Digenic inheritance; epistatis; facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy; high-throughput sequencing; protein-protein interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Genetics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns
  • Multifactorial Inheritance
  • Research Design