Background: Despite a higher burden of standard atrial fibrillation (AF) risk factors, African Americans have a lower risk of AF than whites. It is unknown whether the higher risk is due to genetic or environmental factors. Because African Americans have varying degrees of European ancestry, we sought to test the hypothesis that European ancestry is an independent risk factor for AF.
Methods and results: We studied whites (n=4543) and African Americans (n=822) in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) and whites (n=10 902) and African Americans (n=3517) in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study (n=3517). Percent European ancestry in African Americans was estimated with 1747 ancestry informative markers from the Illumina custom ITMAT-Broad-CARe array. Among African Americans without baseline AF, 120 of 804 CHS participants and 181 of 3517 ARIC participants developed incident AF. A meta-analysis from the 2 studies revealed that every 10% increase in European ancestry increased the risk of AF by 13% (hazard ratio, 1.13; 95% confidence interval, 1.03 to 1.23; P=0.007). After adjustment for potential confounders, European ancestry remained a predictor of incident AF in each cohort alone, with a combined estimated hazard ratio for each 10% increase in European ancestry of 1.17 (95% confidence interval, 1.07 to 1.29; P=0.001). A second analysis using 3192 ancestry informative markers from a genome-wide Affymetrix 6.0 array in ARIC African Americans yielded similar results.
Conclusions: European ancestry predicted risk of incident AF. Our study suggests that investigating genetic variants contributing to differential AF risk in individuals of African versus European ancestry will be informative.