Evidence for a major gene elevating serum bilirubin concentration in Utah pedigrees
In case-control studies, lower serum bilirubin levels have been associated with increased risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). We have also previously shown that serum bilirubin has a significant polygenic component. The purpose of the present investigation was to determine whether there was statistical evidence for a major gene explaining a significant portion of individual variation in serum total bilirubin levels and whether this gene might alter the risk of CHD. Serum bilirubin measurements were obtained from 1240 adults in 84 Utah pedigrees screened twice: from 1980 to 1983 and again from 1983 to 1986. Bivariate maximum-likelihood segregation analysis of serum bilirubin levels obtained from the two clinic visits indicated that a major gene was responsible for elevated levels in 11.5% of the persons in these pedigrees. Phenotypic variations in visit 1 bilirubin arising from polygenes were highly correlated with the phenotypic variation due to polygenes in visit 2 bilirubin, indicating a stable genetic contribution to bilirubin over 2.5 years of follow-up. The major gene explained 27% and 28% of the variance in bilirubin levels at visit 1 and visit 2, respectively. There were no correlations of unmeasured environmental factors influencing bilirubin between the two clinic visits. At both visits, persons with early CHD had lower levels of bilirubin than unaffected persons (P < .01). The odds ratio for the risk of CHD in the high-homozygote group was 0.31, P = .09. We conclude that there is a major gene modestly raising serum bilirubin levels. Since cross-sectional data indicate that low serum bilirubin levels increase the risk of CHD, this major gene may be protective against CHD for about 12% of the persons in this study.