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Inherited genetic variation contributes to individual risk for many complex diseases and is increasingly being used for predictive patient stratification. Previous work has shown that genetic factors are not equally relevant to human traits across age and other contexts, though the reasons for such variation are not clear. Here, we introduce methods to infer the form of the longitudinal relationship between genetic relative risk for disease and age and to test whether all genetic risk factors behave similarly. We use a proportional hazards model within an interval-based censoring methodology to estimate age-varying individual variant contributions to genetic relative risk for 24 common diseases within the British ancestry subset of UK Biobank, applying a Bayesian clustering approach to group variants by their relative risk profile over age and permutation tests for age dependency and multiplicity of profiles. We find evidence for age-varying relative risk profiles in nine diseases, including hypertension, skin cancer, atherosclerotic heart disease, hypothyroidism and calculus of gallbladder, several of which show evidence, albeit weak, for multiple distinct profiles of genetic relative risk. The predominant pattern shows genetic risk factors having the greatest relative impact on risk of early disease, with a monotonic decrease over time, at least for the majority of variants, although the magnitude and form of the decrease varies among diseases. As a consequence, for diseases where genetic relative risk decreases over age, genetic risk factors have stronger explanatory power among younger populations, compared to older ones. We show that these patterns cannot be explained by a simple model involving the presence of unobserved covariates such as environmental factors. We discuss possible models that can explain our observations and the implications for genetic risk prediction.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS genetics

Publication Date





Big Data Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.