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Familial Risks for Main Neurological Diseases in Siblings Based on Hospitalizations in Sweden

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2012

Kari Hemminki*
Division of Molecular Genetic Epidemiology, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany; Center for Family Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Huddinge, Sweden.
Kristina Sundquist
Center for Family Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Huddinge, Sweden.
Xinjun Li
Center for Family Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Huddinge, Sweden.
*Address for correspondence: K. Hemminki, DKFZ, Im Neuenheimer Feld 580, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


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Recent successes in identifying the underlying genetic mechanisms for neurological diseases, particularly for their Mendelian forms, have had profound implications for their diagnostics, treatment and classification. However, there has never been an attempt to compare familial risks in a systematic way among and between the main neurological diseases. Familial risks were here defined for siblings who were hospitalized because of a neurological disease in Sweden. A nationwide database for neurological diseases was constructed by linking the Multigeneration Register of 0- to 69-year-old siblings to the Hospital Discharge Register for the years 1987 to 2001. Standardized risk ratios were calculated for affected sibling pairs by comparing them to those whose siblings had no neurological disease. There were three main results. First, it was shown that all disease groups had a familial risk, with the exception of transient ischemic attacks, and the risks could be ranked from the highest (3451) for Huntington's disease to the lowest (2.1) for inflammatory diseases. Second, increased familial risks were shown for disease subtypes for which susceptibility genes or familial clustering have not been demonstrated previously, including multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea, nerve, nerve root and plexus disorders, and cerebral palsy. Third, based on the available sample size there was no convincing evidence for familial comorbidity between the disease groups, suggesting that the factors causing familial aggregation, probably usually heritable genes, are distinct for each subtype. The high familial risks for neurological disease imply heritable etiology and opportunities for identification of further susceptibility genes.

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