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Heritability of Self-Reported Asthma and Allergy: A Study in Adult Dutch Twins, Siblings and Parents

  • Gonneke Willemsen (a1), Toos C. E. M. van Beijsterveldt (a2), Caroline G. C. M. van Baal (a3), Dirkje Postma (a4) and Dorret I. Boomsma (a5)...

Abstract

The present study assessed the prevalence of asthma and allergy, and estimated the importance of genetic and environmental influences on asthma and allergy liability and their association. Longitudinal data on self-reported, doctor-diagnosed asthma and allergy were collected in over 14,000 individuals registered with the Netherlands Twin Register. Structural equation modeling was used for univariate and bivariate genetic analyses on data from twins, their siblings, and parents. Results showed no sex, age, and minimal birth cohort effects for asthma prevalence (11.8%). For allergy, prevalence was higher in women (19.8%) than in men (13.9%). Allergy prevalence at ages 22, 23, and 24 years increased from the 1970 to the 1980 birth cohort. The prevalence of allergy, but not of asthma, was higher in nontwin siblings than in twins. No assortative mating was observed. High (broad-sense) heritabilities were found for asthma (75%) and allergy (66%), with evidence for nonadditive genetic effects in asthma. The association between asthma and allergy (correlation = .65) was largely due to common genes (70%). No sex differences in genetic architecture were found. In conclusion, the prevalence of allergy but not of asthma increased in recent years. Individual differences in the liability to asthma, allergy and their co-occurrence are for a large part accounted for by differences in genetic background. Nonadditive gene action is important, which may have consequences for gene hunting strategies.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

1Address for correspondence: Dr. G. Willemsen, Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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