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Confluence of genes, environment, development, and behavior in a post Genome-Wide Association Study world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2012

Scott I. Vrieze*
University of Minnesota
William G. Iacono
University of Southern Denmark
Matt McGue
University of Minnesota University of Southern Denmark
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Scott Vrieze, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; E-mail:


This article serves to outline a research paradigm to investigate main effects and interactions of genes, environment, and development on behavior and psychiatric illness. We provide a historical context for candidate gene studies and genome-wide association studies, including benefits, limitations, and expected payoffs. Using substance use and abuse as our driving example, we then turn to the importance of etiological psychological theory in guiding genetic, environmental, and developmental research, as well as the utility of refined phenotypic measures, such as endophenotypes, in the pursuit of etiological understanding and focused tests of genetic and environmental associations. Phenotypic measurement has received considerable attention in the history of psychology and is informed by psychometrics, whereas the environment remains relatively poorly measured and is often confounded with genetic effects (i.e., gene–environment correlation). Genetically informed designs, which are no longer limited to twin and adoption studies thanks to ever-cheaper genotyping, are required to understand environmental influences. Finally, we outline the vast amount of individual difference in structural genomic variation, most of which remains to be leveraged in genetic association tests. Although the genetic data can be massive and burdensome (tens of millions of variants per person), we argue that improved understanding of genomic structure and function will provide investigators with new tools to test specific a priori hypotheses derived from etiological psychological theory, much like current candidate gene research but with less confusion and more payoff than candidate gene research has to date.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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