Although coeliac disease (CD) is strongly associated with the HLA alleles B8 and DR3, the genetic basis of this illness remains obscure. Recent studies show that at least two unlinked loci are involved. Most studies agree on recessivity at the HLA-unlinked locus but differ with respect to dominance or recessivity at the HLA-linked disease susceptibility locus.
To address this controversy, we examined the association of CD with HLA in 39 families from the West of Ireland. Previous studies have shown that the prevalence of CD and the frequencies of the HLA antigens associated with it are higher in this population than in most others. Analysis of the data revealed a significant excess of concordant sib-pairs with two HLA haplotypes in common and an excess of discordant pairs with no haplotype in common. Chi-square tests confirmed a highly significant association between HLA-B8 and CD. Both heterozygotes and homozygotes for B8 had a significantly increased risk of CD. The risk for homozygotes was slightly higher than for heterozygotes, although not significantly so. The segregation ratio for disease occurrence among sibs of probands was estimated to be 0.185 when neither parent is affected. We estimated a gene frequency of 0.003 for the disease allele (C) at the HLA-linked locus and of 0.648 for the disease allele (d) at the HLA-unlinked locus. Assuming that CCdd homozygotes are always affected and that only carriers of C who are homozygous dd can be affected, the disease was found to be completely penetrant in Ccdd heterozygotes. These results support dominance at the HLA-linked locus conferring susceptibility to CD. Possible reasons for the discrepancy between the West of Ireland and other populations are discussed.