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Complex Traits

How Genes Are Involved In Complex Disease, How The Environment Is Involved In Complex Disease, Genes And Environmental Factors May Interact

Complex traits are those that are influenced by more than one factor. The factors can be genetic or environmental. This is in contrast to simple genetic traits, whose variations are controlled by variations in single genes. Examples of simple traits include Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis. Each of these traits is caused by a mutation in a single gene that alters or destroys the function of that gene. There are several thousand disorders caused by single genes, but these are almost always quite rare in the population, often occurring in less than one in five thousand individuals.

Almost any trait that is not simple is considered complex. If there are just a few genes that affect a trait, it may be called oligogenic. If there are many different genes that affect a trait, it may be called polygenic. If other, nongenetic factors are involved, it may be called multifactorial.

Diseases inherited as complex traits are often much more common in the population and include heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. There are many factors that can affect a complex disease. Perhaps most commonly, these traits have multiple genes, where variations in those genes can influence the risk of developing the disease.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 1