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Oxford Textbook of Rheumatology (4 ed.)

Christopher R. Holroyd

, Nicholas C. Harvey

, Mark H. Edwards

, and Cyrus Cooper

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Musculoskeletal disease covers a broad spectrum of conditions whose aetiology comprises variable genetic and environmental contributions. More recently it has become clear that, particularly early in life, the interaction of gene and environment is critical to the development of later disease. Additionally, only a small proportion of the variation in adult traits such as bone mineral density has been explained by specific genes in genome-wide association studies, suggesting that gene-environment interaction may explain a much larger part of the inheritance of disease risk than previously thought. It is therefore critically important to evaluate the environmental factors which may predispose to diseases such as osteorthritis, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis both at the individual and at the population level. In this chapter we describe the environmental contributors, across the whole life course, to osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, as exemplar conditions. We consider factors such as age, gender, nutrition (including the role of vitamin D), geography, occupation, and the clues that secular changes of disease pattern may yield. We describe the accumulating evidence that conditions such as osteoporosis may be partly determined by the early interplay of environment and genotype, through aetiological mechanisms such as DNA methylation and other epigenetic phenomena. Such studies, and those examining the role of environmental influences across other stages of the life course, suggest that these issues should be addressed at all ages, starting from before conception, in order to optimally reduce the burden of musculoskeletal disorders in future generations.

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