NHGRI logo
Chromosome spread

​Polygenic Trait

updated: July 17, 2024


A polygenic trait is a characteristic, such as height or skin color, that is influenced by two or more genes. Because multiple genes are involved, polygenic traits do not follow the patterns of Mendelian inheritance. Many polygenic traits are also influenced by the environment and are called multifactorial.


Polygenic Trait. As we've gotten better at identifying regions of the human genome that are associated with disease and at analyzing complicated genomic data, we've learned that the genetic component of many of the most important health conditions of our time — cancer, heart disease, diabetes — are due to the effects of multiple genes. Hence, polygenic, or many genes. This has been a fascinating area of study, as scientists have begun to study these conditions and realized that the ways that we have of predicting risks for polygenic traits have tremendous potential for improving human health.

Lucia Hindorff, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Lucia Hindorff, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Lead Extramural Training Program Director

Training, Diversity and Health Equity Office