Ionizing radiation and genetic risks. VIII. The concept of mutation component and its use in risk estimation for multifactorial diseases

C. Denniston, R. Chakraborty, K. Sankaranarayanan

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Multifactorial diseases, which include the common congenital abnormalities (incidence: 6%) and chronic diseases with onset predominantly in adults (population prevalence: 65%), contribute substantially to human morbidity and mortality. Their transmission patterns do not conform to Mendelian expectations. The model most frequently used to explain their inheritance and to estimate risks to relatives is a Multifactorial Threshold Model (MTM) of disease liability. The MTM assumes that: (i) the disease is due to the joint action of a large number of genetic and environmental factors, each of which contributing a small amount of liability, (ii) the distribution of liability in the population is Gaussian and (iii) individuals whose liability exceeds a certain threshold value are affected by the disease. For most of these diseases, the number of genes involved or the environmental factors are not fully known. In the context of radiation exposures of the population, the question of the extent to which induced mutations will cause an increase in the frequencies of these diseases has remained unanswered. In this paper, we address this problem by using a modified version of MTM which incorporates mutation and selection as two additional parameters. The model assumes a finite number of gene loci and threshold of liability hence, the designation, Finite-Locus Threshold Model or FLTM . The FLTM permits one to examine the relationship between broad-sense heritability of disease liability and mutation component (MC), the responsiveness of the disease to a change in mutation rate. Through the use of a computer program (in which mutation rate, selection, threshold, recombination rate and environmental variance are input parameters and MC and heritability of liability are output estimates , we studied the MC-heritability relationship for (i) a permanent increase in mutation rate (e.g., when the population sustains radiation exposure in every generation) and (ii) a one-time increase in mutation rate. Our investigation shows that, for a permanent increase in mutation rate of 15%, MC in the first few generations is of the order of 1-2%. This conclusion holds over a broad range of heritability values above about 30%. At equilibrium, however, MC reaches 100%. For a one-time increase in mutation rate, MC reaches its maximum value of (1-2%) in the first generation, followed by a decline to zero in subsequent generations. These conclusions hold for so many combinations of parameter values i.e., threshold, selection coefficient, number of loci, environmental variance, spontaneous mutation rate, increases in mutation rate, levels of 'interaction' between genes and recombination rates that it can be considered to be relatively robust. We also investigated the biological validity of the FLTM in terms of the minimum number of loci, their mutation rates and selection coefficients needed to explain the incidence of multifactorial diseases using the theory of genetic loads. We argue that for common multifactorial diseases, selection coefficients are small in present-day human populations. Consequently, with mutation rates of the order known for Mendelian genes, the FLTM with a few loci and weak selection provides a good approximation for studying the responsiveness of multifactorial diseases to radiation exposures. (C)1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-79
Number of pages23
JournalMutation Research - Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis
Issue number1
StatePublished - 31 Aug 1998


  • Genetic risk of radiation
  • Multifactorial disease
  • Mutation component for multifactorial disease
  • Radiation risk


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