A major weakness of most genome-wide association studies has been their inability to fully explain the heritable component of complex disease. Nearly all such studies consider the two parental alleles to be functionally equivalent. However, the existence of imprinted genes demonstrates that this assumption can be wrong. In this review, we describe a wide variety of different mechanisms that underlie many other parent of origin and trans-generational effects that are known to operate in both humans and model organisms, suggesting that these phenomena are perhaps not uncommon in the genome. We propose that the consideration of alternative models of inheritance will improve our understanding of the heritability and causes of human traits and could have significant impacts on the study of complex disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-209
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Complex disorders
  • Epigenetics
  • Genomic imprinting
  • Missing heritability
  • Parent of origin effects
  • Trans-generational effects


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