Genetic and environmental influences on premature death in adult adoptees

N Engl J Med. 1988 Mar 24;318(12):727-32. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198803243181202.


To assess genetic and environmental influences on adult mortality, we followed 960 families that included children born during the period 1924 through 1926 who were placed early in life with adoptive parents unrelated to them. We evaluated the risks of dying from all causes or from specific groups of causes between the ages of 16 and 58 years for adoptees with a biologic or adoptive parent who died of the same cause before the age of either 50 or 70. We compared these risks with the adoptees' risk of dying from the same causes between the ages of 16 and 58 when either the biologic or adoptive parents were still alive at the ages of 50 and 70. The death of a biologic parent before the age of 50 resulted in relative risks of death in the adoptees of 1.71 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.14 to 2.57) for all causes, 1.98 (1.25 to 3.12) for natural causes, 5.81 (2.47 to 13.7) for infections, 4.52 (1.32 to 15.4) for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular causes, and 1.19 (0.16 to 8.99) for cancers. The death of an adoptive parent resulted in relative risks of death in the adoptees that were close to unity for all causes, natural causes, and infections, 3.02 (0.72 to 12.8) for vascular causes, and 5.16 (1.20 to 22.2) for cancers. A similar but weaker pattern was observed when either a biologic or adoptive parent died before the age of 70. We conclude that premature death in adults has a strong genetic background--especially death due to infections and vascular causes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adoption*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cause of Death
  • Denmark
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infections / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Parents
  • Risk Factors