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Your Environment. Your Health.

Gene-Environment Interaction


Gene-Environment Interaction

hands holding two puzzle pieces

Nearly all diseases result from a complex interaction between an individual’s genetic make-up and the environmental agents that he or she is exposed to.

Examples of environmental agents:

  • Mold
  • Ozone
  • Pesticides
  • Air pollution
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Dust mites
  • Some foods and medications

Subtle differences in genetic factors cause people to respond differently when exposed to the same environmental agent.  As a result, some possess a low risk for developing a disease through an environmental insult, while others are much more vulnerable.

As scientists learn more about the connection between genetics and environmental factors, and how that connection may influence human disease, they’ll begin to develop new strategies for the treatment and prevention of many illnesses.

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What NIEHS is Doing on Gene-Environment Interaction 

NIEHS researchers and grantees are presently studying a wide range of diseases and disorders with environmental triggers. Here are just a few examples:


Over time, scientists have found that rare gene changes (or mutations) as well as small common genetic variations are associated with autism, which indicates that autism has a genetic contributor. Additionally, a growing area of research indicates that autism may be caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

One hypothesis states that autism may be triggered by a mother’s exposure to environmental agents such as air pollution or pesticides while pregnant. These exposures, in turn, could cause or contribute to the child’s development of the disorder.

Parkinson’s Disease

A full understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD) risk requires integrated efforts to study both genetic and environmental factors. If environmental exposures can be identified, it may lead to new targets for prevention and intervention.

Environmental agents and or factors that scientists say could be linked to PD:

  • Pesticide exposures
  • Dietary nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Nicotine

Additional information on NIEHS’ involvement in PD research is available online via the NIEHS Environmental Health Topics page on Parkinson's disease.

Breast Cancer

For years, NIEHS has played a leadership role in funding and conducting studies on the ways in which environmental exposures increase breast cancer risk. This research includes animal studies to understand the role of environmental agents in the initiation and progression of cancer, as well as research on chemical risk factors and genetic susceptibility in human populations.

Stories from the Environmental Factor

Other NIEHS programs, projects, and initiatives

Related Topics 

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