Susceptibility gene discovery for common metabolic and endocrine traits.
Almost all major causes of ill-health and premature death in human societies worldwide - including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many infectious diseases - are, at least in part, genetically determined. Typically, risk of succumbing to one of these illnesses is thought to depend on both the individual repertoire of variation within a number of key susceptibility genes and the history of exposure to relevant environmental factors. For many of these conditions, the molecular basis of disease pathogenesis remains obscure. This represents a major obstacle to development of improved, rational strategies for disease treatment, prevention and eradication. It is easy therefore to appreciate the importance attached to efforts to deliver more comprehensive understanding of the molecular basis of disease pathogenesis. Nor is it hard to understand that identification of major susceptibility genes should highlight those components of molecular machinery that are critical for the preservation of normal health. The benefits promised are great, but progress to gene identification in multifactorial traits has been rather disappointing to date. Why is this? This review aims to answer this question by describing current and future approaches to gene discovery in multifactorial traits. The examples quoted will mostly relate to type 2 diabetes, but the issues and approaches are generic, and apply equally to other multifactorial traits in the endocrine and metabolic arena - type 1 diabetes; obesity; hyperlipidaemia; autoimmune thyroid disease; polycystic ovarian syndrome - and beyond.