Background: The presence of cytoplasmic islet-cell autoantibodies has been recognized as a risk factor for the development of diabetes mellitus in relatives of patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), but the magnitude of the risk is unknown, as is the influence of other factors, such as age, sex, and race.
Methods: From 1979 through 1989, we studied 4015 initially nondiabetic relatives of 1590 probands with IDDM to determine the risk of IDDM according to the presence and titer of autoantibodies, as well as other factors.
Results: Of the 4015 nondiabetic relatives, 125 (3.1 percent) had islet-cell antibodies in their initial serum samples, and 40 contracted IDDM. Islet-cell antibodies were most frequent (4.3 percent) in relatives who were under 20 years of age (P = 0.001) and in those (4.8 percent) from families with more than one affected member (a multiplex pedigree) (P = 0.003). Independent risk factors for the development of diabetes in the relatives included age of less than 10 years at the time of the initial study (P = 0.001), membership in a multiplex pedigree (P = 0.02), and a positive test for islet-cell antibodies in the initial serum sample (P = 0.0001). Twenty-seven of the relatives in whom diabetes developed (67.5 percent) had positive tests for islet-cell antibodies before the diagnosis of IDDM, giving a relative risk of IDDM of 68 (95 percent confidence interval, 34 to 134) for antibody-positive relatives. Islet-cell-antibody titers of 20 Juvenile Diabetes Foundation units or higher were associated with an increasing risk of diabetes.
Conclusions: Nondiabetic relatives of probands with IDDM who are in the first two decades of life, are members of multiplex pedigrees, and have increased titers of islet-cell antibodies are the most likely to contract IDDM themselves.