Aims: To examine the heritability of atrial fibrillation (AF) in Icelanders, utilizing a nationwide genealogy database and population-based data on AF. AF is a disorder with a high prevalence, which has been known to cluster in families, but the heritability of the common form has not been well defined.
Methods and results: The study population included 5269 patients diagnosed since 1987 and age-sex-matched controls randomly selected from the genealogy database. Kinship coefficients (KC), expressed as genealogical index of familiality (GIF = average KC x 100,000), were calculated before and after exclusion of relatives separated by one to five meiotic events. Risk ratios (RR) were calculated for first- to fifth-degree relatives. The average pairwise GIF among patients with AF was 15.9 (mean GIF for controls 13.9, 95%CI = 13.3, 14.4); this declined to 15.4 (mean GIF for controls 13.6, 95%CI = 13.1, 14.2) after exclusion of relatives separated by one meiosis and to 13.7 (mean GIF for controls 12.6, 95%CI = 12.1, 13.2), 12.7 (mean GIF for controls 11.9, 95%CI = 11.4, 12.4), and 11.3 (mean GIF for controls 10.6, 95%CI = 10.1, 11.1) after exclusion of relatives within two, three, and four meioses, respectively (all P<0.00001). RRs among relative pairs also declined incrementally, from 1.77 in first-degree relatives to 1.36, 1.18, 1.10, and 1.05 in second- through fifth-degree relatives (all P<0.001), consistent with the declining proportion of alleles shared identically by descent. When the analysis was limited to subjects diagnosed with AF before the age of 60, first-degree relatives of the AF cases were nearly five times more likely to have AF than the general population.
Conclusion: AF shows strong evidence of heritability among unselected patients in Iceland, suggesting that there may be undiscovered genetic variants underlying the risk of the common form of AF.