Success in mapping the human genome has fostered the complementary concept of the “exposome“.
The exposome can be defined as the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. An individual’s exposure begins before birth and includes insults from environmental and occupational sources. Understanding how exposures from our environment, diet, lifestyle, etc. interact with our own unique characteristics such as genetics, physiology, and epigenetics impact our health is how the exposome will be articulated.
Exposomics is the study of the exposome and relies on the application of internal and external exposure assessment methods.
2016 Paper Abstract
The exposome concept was defined in 2005 as encompassing all environmental exposures from conception onwards, as a new strategy to evidence environmental disease risk factors. Although very appealing, the exposome concept is challenging in many respects. In terms of assessment, several hundreds of time-varying exposures need to be considered, but increasing the number of exposures assessed should not be done at the cost of increased exposure misclassification. Accurately assessing the exposome currently requires numerous measurements, which rely on different technologies; resulting in an expensive set of protocols. In the future, high-throughput ‘omics technologies may be a promising technique to integrate a wide range of exposures from a small numbers of biological matrices. Assessing the association between many exposures and health raises statistical challenges. Due to the correlation structure of the exposome, existing statistical methods cannot fully and efficiently untangle the exposures truly affecting the health outcome from correlated exposures. Other statistical challenges relate to accounting for exposure misclassification or identifying synergistic effects between exposures. On-going exposome projects are trying to overcome technical and statistical challenges. From a public health perspective, a better understanding of the environmental risk factors should open the way to improved prevention strategies.
2015 Paper Abstract
The environment plays a major role in influencing diseases and health. The phenomenon of environmental exposure is complex and humans are not exposed to one or a handful factors but potentially hundreds factors throughout their lives. The exposome, the totality of exposures encountered from birth, is hypothesized to consist of multiple inter-dependencies, or correlations, between individual exposures. These correlations may reflect how individuals are exposed. Currently, we lack methods to comprehensively identify robust and replicated correlations between environmental exposures of the exposome. Further, we have not mapped how exposures associated with disease identified by environment-wide association studies (EWAS) are correlated with other exposures. To this end, we implement methods to describe a first “exposome globe”, a comprehensive display of replicated correlations between individual exposures of the exposome. First, we describe overall characteristics of the dense correlations between exposures, showing that we are able to replicate 2,656 correlations between individual exposures of 81,937 total considered (3%). We document the correlation within and between broad a priori defined categories of exposures (e.g., pollutants and nutrient exposures). We also demonstrate utility of the exposome globe to contextualize exposures found through two EWASs in type 2 diabetes and all-cause mortality, such as exposure clusters putatively related to smoking behaviors and persistent pollutant exposure. The exposome globe construct is a useful tool for the display and communication of the complex relationships between exposure factors and between exposure factors related to disease status.