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Complex Traits

An Example Of A Complex Trait

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by a gradual loss of brain function, usually starting with increasing loss of memory. Four different genes have been identified that can play a role in causing Alzheimer's disease. Rare mutations in each of three different genes (on different chromosomes) can each cause Alzheimer's disease. A common variation in a fourth gene, called ApoE, which occurs in approximately 35 percent of the population, increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease about threefold if a person has one copy of the allele (called e4), and about tenfold if they have two copies of the allele.

Taken together, these four genes account for less than half of all the genetic effects in Alzheimer's disease, indicating that additional genes that have not yet been identified are also important. In addition, environmental risk factors can have an effect. For example, taking certain anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, whereas severe head injury increases it.

Jonathan L. Haines


Haines, Jonathan L., and Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, eds. Approaches to Gene Mapping in Complex Human Diseases. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

Strachan, Tom, and Andrew P. Read. Human Molecular Genetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

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Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 1Complex Traits - How Genes Are Involved In Complex Disease, How The Environment Is Involved In Complex Disease, Genes And Environmental Factors May Interact