Benefits and limitations of genome-wide association studies

Nat Rev Genet. 2019 Aug;20(8):467-484. doi: 10.1038/s41576-019-0127-1.


Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) involve testing genetic variants across the genomes of many individuals to identify genotype-phenotype associations. GWAS have revolutionized the field of complex disease genetics over the past decade, providing numerous compelling associations for human complex traits and diseases. Despite clear successes in identifying novel disease susceptibility genes and biological pathways and in translating these findings into clinical care, GWAS have not been without controversy. Prominent criticisms include concerns that GWAS will eventually implicate the entire genome in disease predisposition and that most association signals reflect variants and genes with no direct biological relevance to disease. In this Review, we comprehensively assess the benefits and limitations of GWAS in human populations and discuss the relevance of performing more GWAS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genetic Association Studies / methods*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Phenotype