A genetic basis for asthma- and atopy-related quantitative traits, such as allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels, has been suggested by the observed familial aggregation of these traits in temperate climates. Less information is available for tropical climates, where different allergens may predominate. Sensitivity to the mite Blomia tropicalis is related to asthma in tropical climates, but heritability of B. tropicalis sensitivity and the impact of age, sex, and other environmental covariates on heritability have not been widely explored. Total and specific IgE levels were measured by immunochemiluminescent assay in 481 members of 29 Barbadian families (comprised of 340 parent-offspring trios or pairs) ascertained through two asthmatic siblings. Trait heritability was estimated using regression of offspring on mid-parent (ROMP) and pairwise correlation analysis of unadjusted IgE levels and on residual values after adjustment for covariates. Heritability of IgE levels to the major antigen of B. tropicalis (Bio t M) estimated by ROMP in 180 complete parent-offspring trios was 0.56. Heritability was consistently greater for male offspring than for female offspring. Similar sex-specific patterns were observed for specific IgE to Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and total IgE levels and were relatively unaffected by adjustment for covariates. Pairwise correlational analyses of specific and total IgE levels showed similar results. Moderate heritability of Bio t M IgE levels was detected in these Barbadian families and was greater for sons than daughters. Adjustment for covariates had minimal impact. This suggests that future investigations of genetic determinants of IgE levels should include approaches that allow for potential sex differences in their expression.
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