USC Environmental Health Centers

Current news, events and research projects of the Environmental Health Centers based at USC

July 19, 2018

NEW RESEARCH: USC investigators contribute to a landmark study about the genetics of allergies

USC Environmental Health
Study significantly expands the known genetic markers to household and seasonal allergies

USC investigators at the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center,  Zhanghua Chen, Frank Gilliland, and W. James Gauderman, were contributing authors to a study published this month in Nature Genetics. The meta-analysis, involved over 80 contributing authors, analyzed known genetic links to allergic rhinitis as well as identified new genes associated with the allergy diagnosis. The population studied included almost 60,000 cases of allergic rhinitis in people of European ancestry and compared these cases to a control group (people who had not been diagnosed with allergic rhinitis) of over 150,000 people. “In order for this size of study analysis to be accomplished, many cases must be analyzed to provide sufficient power to detect genetic markers related to disease.  We became involved in this study because we have genetic information of nearly five thousand children who participated in the Children’s Health Study. Once all study criteria were met for this analysis, our team contributed genetic data from 587 cases and 965 controls to the entire GWAS study sample,” said Keck School of Medicine post-doctoral research associate Zhanghua Chen.

The study identified 42 genetic markers that are known to be associated with risk for developing allergic rhinitis, 21 of which had not been previously reported in other research studies.

“This study helps to enhance our scientific knowledge about the genetic network that plays a critical role in the causes of allergic rhinitis. The findings highlight the involvement of immune activity in the development of allergic rhinitis. These genetic findings may help clinicians to prevent and treat people who have higher genetics risk to develop allergic rhinitis,” said Chen.

In the United States, 6.1 million children and 20 million adults are affected with allergic rhinitis per year.  A medical diagnosis of allergic rhinitis indicates that a person’s nasal passages become irritated and inflamed. Their health and quality of life is affected as they have allergies to pollens (seasonal) and/or indoor allergens (year-round) to things such as dust mites, feathers, animal dander and mold.

Allergic rhinitis is a complex disease caused by both genes and environment, and numerous genes contribute to the cause of the disease. This type of genetic study requires a very large sample size to have sufficient power to detect significant disease-related markers. Therefore, the large consortium of researchers assembled for this study has the advantage to pool samples from their research, to increase the sample size and discover new genetic variants for this common genetic condition.

To participate in this study, the USC researchers received funding from:

The CHS and related research was supported by the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (grant P30ES007048); National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (grants 5P01ES011627, ES021801, ES023262); P01ES009581, P01ES011627, P01ES022845, R01 ES016535, R03ES014046), National Cancer Institute (PO1 CA196569, P50CA180905), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R01HL061768, R01HL076647, R01HL087680, and RC2HL101651), the Environmental Protection Agency (grant #s RD83544101, R826708, RD831861, and R831845), and the Hastings Foundation.

The study can be found at:

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