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Your Environment. Your Health.

Gene-Environment Interaction

Introduction

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:

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 is NIEHS Doing?

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

Autism

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:

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.

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Printable Fact Sheets

Additional Resources

  • Genes, Behavior, the Environment, and Health For over 100 years, NIH has supported biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. Read the stories of research discovery, current treatment status, and future expectations for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the nation's health.
  • Genes: What We Knew, Know, and Hope to Learn For over 100 years, NIH has supported biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. Read the stories of research discovery, current treatment status, and future expectations for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the nation's health.
  • Household Products Database Search the Household Products Database of the National Library of Medicine, which links over 16,000 consumer brands to health effects from Safety Data Sheets.
  • Human Genome Project For over 100 years, NIH has supported biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. Read the stories of research discovery, current treatment status, and future expectations for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the nation's health.

Related Health Topics

For Educators