Polygenic risk scores (PRS) are predictors of the genetic susceptibilities of individuals to diseases. All individuals have DNA risk variants for all common diseases, but genetic susceptibility differences between people reflect the cumulative burden of these. Polygenic risk scores for an individual are calculated as weighted counts of thousands of risk variants that they carry, where the risk variants and their weights have been identified in genome-wide association studies. Here, we review the underlying basic science of PRS, providing a foundation for understanding the potential clinical utility and limitations of PRS.
Polygenic risk scores can be calculated for a wide range of diseases from a saliva or blood sample using genotyping technologies that are inexpensive. While genotyping only needs to be done once for each individual in their lifetime, the PRS can be recalculated as identification of risk variants improves. On their own, PRS will never be able to establish or definitively predict future diagnoses of common complex conditions because genetic factors only contribute part of the risk, and PRS will only ever capture part of the genetic contributions. Nonetheless, just as clinical medicine uses a multitude of other predictive measures, PRS either on their own or as part of multivariable predictive algorithms could play a role.
Conclusions and Relevance
Utility of PRS in clinical medicine and ethical issues related to their use should be evaluated in the context of realistic expectations of what PRS can and cannot deliver. For different diseases, PRS could have utility in community settings (stratification to better triage people into established screening programs) or could contribute to clinical decision-making for those presenting with symptoms but where formal diagnosis is unclear. In principle, PRS could contribute to treatment choices, but more data are needed to allow development of PRS in this context.
Identify all potential conflicts of interest that might be relevant to your comment.
Conflicts of interest comprise financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including but not limited to employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speaker's bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued.
Err on the side of full disclosure.
If you have no conflicts of interest, check "No potential conflicts of interest" in the box below. The information will be posted with your response.
Not all submitted comments are published. Please see our commenting policy for details.
Wray NR, Lin T, Austin J, et al. From Basic Science to Clinical Application of Polygenic Risk Scores: A Primer. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(1):101–109. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3049
Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.
Create a personal account or sign in to: