Uncovering the underlying genetic component of any disease is key to the understanding of its pathophysiology and may open new avenues for development of therapeutic strategies and biomarkers. In the past several years, there has been an explosion of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) resulting in the discovery of novel candidate genes conferring risk for complex diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases. Despite this success, there still remains a substantial genetic component for many complex traits and conditions that is unexplained by the GWAS findings. Additionally, in many cases, the mechanism of action of the newly discovered disease risk variants is not inherently obvious. Furthermore, a genetic region with multiple genes may be identified via GWAS, making it difficult to discern the true disease risk gene. Several alternative approaches are proposed to overcome these potential shortcomings of GWAS, including the use of quantitative, biologically relevant phenotypes. Gene expression levels represent an important class of endophenotypes. Genetic linkage and association studies that utilize gene expression levels as endophenotypes determined that the expression levels of many genes are under genetic influence. This led to the postulate that there may exist many genetic variants that confer disease risk via modifying gene expression levels. Results from the handful of genetic studies which assess gene expression level endophenotypes in conjunction with disease risk suggest that this combined phenotype approach may both increase the power for gene discovery and lead to an enhanced understanding of their mode of action. This review summarizes the evidence in support of gene expression levels as promising endophenotypes in the discovery and characterization of novel candidate genes for complex diseases, which may also represent a novel approach in the genetic studies of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Clinical Neurology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience