The genetic epidemiology of alopecia areata in China

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Abstract

Background

Alopecia areata (AA) is hypothesized to be an organ-specific autoimmune disease with genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger. There are few clinical data in Asians.

Objectives

To describe the genetic epidemiological features of AA patients in China and to determine the possible genetic model for AA.

Methods

Data for 1032 patients with AA were obtained by questionnaire in the Institute of Dermatology of Anhui Medical University in China from 2001 to 2003. Complex segregation analysis and heritability analysis were performed using Falconer's method, EPI INFO 6·0 and SAGE-REGTL programs.

Results

In total, 1032 AA patients (male/female ratio 1·1: 1) were enrolled, representing 0·94% of the total number of cases seen in our outpatient clinic during that time. The mean ± SD age of onset was 28·98 ± 13·43 years. The difference between the mean age of onset in males and females was not significant. Most patients (82·6%) experienced their first episode of AA within the first four decades of life. A positive family history of AA was obtained in 87 patients (8·4%). The prevalence of AA in first-, second- and third-degree relatives of the proband with AA was 1·6%, 0·19% and 0·03%, respectively. These figures were higher than those in controls. A greater severity and longer duration of AA were seen in the early onset group than in the late-onset group. The early onset group also had more affected first- and second-degree relatives. The heritability of AA in first-, second- and third-degree relatives was 47·16%, 42·53% and 22·29%, respectively. Based on the REGTL results, the best model was a polygenic additive model for AA.

Conclusions

The effect of genetic factors is strong in AA, but environmental factors such as infection and psychological stress may still play an important role. Our findings on the genetics of AA are consistent with a polygenic additive mode of inheritance.

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