Heritability of non-HLA genetics in coeliac disease: a population-based study in 107 000 twins

Gut. 2016 Nov;65(11):1793-1798. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-311713. Epub 2016 May 20.


Background and objective: Almost 100% individuals with coeliac disease (CD) are carriers of the human leucocyte antigen (HLA) DQ2/DQ8 alleles. Earlier studies have, however, failed to consider the HLA system when estimating heritability in CD, thus violating an underlying assumption of heritability analysis. We examined the heritability of CD in a large population-based sample of twins, considering HLA.

Design: In a population-representative sample of 107 912 twins, we identified individuals with CD (equal to villous atrophy) through biopsy reports from all Swedish pathology departments. We calculated concordance rates and tetrachoric correlations for monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs. Further, we estimated heritability of CD, first strictly from observed data, and then the non-HLA heritability, representing the heritability of all genetic factors except the HLA locus, using an approach that circumvent the violation of underlying assumptions.

Results: We identified 513 twins with a diagnosis of CD (prevalence 0.48%). Concordance rates were higher in MZ pairs (0.49) than in DZ pairs (0.10), as were tetrachoric correlations (0.89 in MZ vs 0.51 in DZ pairs). The heritability of CD was 75% (95% CI 55% to 96%). The non-HLA heritability was slightly attenuated, 68% (95% CI 40% to 96%), with shared (17%) and non-shared (15%) environmental factors explaining the remaining variability of CD.

Conclusions: CD is characterised by a high heritability, but our study also suggests that non-shared environmental factors may be of importance to CD development. HLA seems to have only moderate impact on heritability estimates.


Publication types

  • Twin Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy / methods
  • Celiac Disease* / epidemiology
  • Celiac Disease* / genetics
  • Celiac Disease* / pathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation / physiology
  • HLA-DQ Antigens / genetics
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / pathology*
  • Male
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / physiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Registries
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Dizygotic / statistics & numerical data
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / statistics & numerical data


  • HLA-DQ Antigens