a1 Centre for Cardiovascular Genetics, British Heart Foundation Laboratories, Rayne Building, Royal Free and University College London Medical School, London, WC1E 6JF, UK
CHD is a multifactorial disease, caused by both genetic and environmental factors. The inherited 'defective' genes will vary from individual to individual, and any single mutation is likely to be making only a small contribution to risk. The context dependency, i.e. the importance of environmental factors in influencing genetic risk, is now becoming evident. Thus, a mutation may have a modest effect on risk in individuals who maintain a low environmental risk, but a major effect in a high-risk environment. Methods of analysing gene–environment interactions on CHD risk will be discussed and illustrated with several examples. APOE has three common alleles, 2, 3 and 4. The 4 allele has consistently been associated with CHD risk, which has been confirmed by meta-analysis. However, when the effect of genotype on risk was considered in smokers and non-smokers separately, risk in non-smokers was similar in all APOE genotypes. By comparison, in the smokers, 3 homozygotes, as expected, had an approximately 2-fold higher risk, while for 4 carriers there was a significantly greater than additive effect of genotype and smoking on risk (P ≫0.007). Thus, the impact of the 4 allele on CHD risk appears to be confined to current smokers, an effect that has been confirmed in several studies. Another example is the interaction between the alcohol dehydrogenase 3 gene variant and alcohol consumption on CHD risk (P ≫0.001), showing the context dependency of the effect. Thus, the importance of considering environmental factors as potential genotype-risk modifiers has major public health implications.