The thrifty-genotype hypothesis and its implications for the study of complex genetic disorders in man

J Mol Med (Berl). 1998 Jul;76(8):568-71. doi: 10.1007/s001090050251.


According to the "thrifty-genotype" hypothesis proposed by Neel, diseases of civilization such as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and hypertension result from a discordance between certain features of our present-day environment and our genetic make-up which evolved to fit the life of Paleolithic humans. This concept implies that while "affected" individuals harbor the "original" ancestral version of the relevant genes, healthy or "unaffected" individuals have picked up recent mutations leading to a "loss of thriftiness" of these genes. Support for this concept now comes from recent studies of the angiotensinogen gene, where an ancestral variant of the gene (AGT 235T), also present in primates, has now been associated with hypertension whereas a neomorphic variant (AGT 235M) apparently reduces the risk of high blood pressure. The implications of these findings for our understanding and approach to the study of complex genetic diseases is discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensinogen / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Variation
  • Hominidae / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / genetics*
  • Primates / genetics


  • Angiotensinogen