Genetic epidemiology of diabetic retinopathy

Lisa Tom, Samaneh Davoudi, Lucia Sobrin


The disease burden of diabetic retinopathy (DR) is tremendous around the world. While DR is correlated with hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and duration of diabetes, genetic differences likely account for variation in susceptibility to DR. DR is a polygenic disorder with demonstrated heritability. However, linkage and admixture analyses, candidate gene association studies, and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have not identified many loci for DR that can be consistently replicated. Larger, collaborative, multi-ethnic GWAS are needed to identify common variants with small effects. Rigorous defining of controls groups as patients with a long duration of diabetes without DR, and case groups as patients with severe DR will also aid in finding genes associated with DR. Replication in independent cohorts will be key to establishing associated loci for DR. Investigations of mitochondrial DNA and epigenetics in DR are ongoing. Whole exome sequencing presents new opportunities to identify rare variants that might be implicated in DR development. Continued research in the genetic epidemiology of DR is needed, with the potential to elucidate pathogenesis and treatment of an important disease.