Testing for gene-environment interaction under exposure misspecification

Biometrics. 2018 Jun;74(2):653-662. doi: 10.1111/biom.12813. Epub 2017 Nov 9.


Complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors characterizes the etiology of many diseases. Modeling gene-environment (GxE) interactions is often challenged by the unknown functional form of the environment term in the true data-generating mechanism. We study the impact of misspecification of the environmental exposure effect on inference for the GxE interaction term in linear and logistic regression models. We first examine the asymptotic bias of the GxE interaction regression coefficient, allowing for confounders as well as arbitrary misspecification of the exposure and confounder effects. For linear regression, we show that under gene-environment independence and some confounder-dependent conditions, when the environment effect is misspecified, the regression coefficient of the GxE interaction can be unbiased. However, inference on the GxE interaction is still often incorrect. In logistic regression, we show that the regression coefficient is generally biased if the genetic factor is associated with the outcome directly or indirectly. Further, we show that the standard robust sandwich variance estimator for the GxE interaction does not perform well in practical GxE studies, and we provide an alternative testing procedure that has better finite sample properties.

Keywords: Asymptotic bias; Genome-wide environmental interaction studies (GWEIS); Heteroscedasticity; Model misspecification; Resampling methods; Sandwich variance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Scientific Experimental Error / statistics & numerical data