From San Jose, California, USA:
Is diabetes recessive or dominant, and how is it inherited? A lot of my ancestors have diabetes and I wanted to know the chance I would get diabetes.
The inheritance of diabetes is rather more complicated than the simple Mendelian concept of dominant and recessive, autosomal or sex-linked. Type 1 Diabetes depends to some extent on the inherited pattern of certain white blood cell surface proteins, usually referred to as HLA types. However, there is an environmental component which is a major factor in deciding whether those who are 'at risk' will develop clinical diabetes. This was realised when it was found that identical twins were discordant for this kind of diabetes. What the factor(s) are is not known: for a number of years early exposure to cow's milk was thought to be one; but this has subsequently been discounted.
In adult onsetdiabetes, it is even harder to be precise about the likelihood of developing the condition. In some cases especially amongst Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young specific chromosomal abnormalities have been defined; but there has not been time to assemble the family trees needed to define the actual mode of inheritance. For the majority of Type 2 Diabetics the mechanisms are not defined in precise molecular or chromosomal terms. Ethnic factors are also important.
Finally, there is the factor of stress which may hasten the onset of any form of diabetes and perhaps the commonest of these in later life is age. You write about 'ancestors' which suggest that you have no first degree relatives with any form of diabetes. This in turn would suggest that your chances of getting the disease are no more than for the population as a whole, age adjusted.
Original posting 20 Jan 97
Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:52
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