Thursday, January 15, 2009

Autoimmunity Inheritance


Image found here.
A few days ago, John's nephew and his wife had a beautiful baby boy. John and I were tickled pink to be asked to be the little guy's godparents. I held this precious bundle and counted his fingers and toes and smooched his silky smooth cheeks. What a blessing.

His parents were uber prepared for this little boy's arrival. They thoroughly researched everything from car seats and good/bad plastic products and vaccinations. His parents also did some research into our family's health history. They found several significant histories of diabetes, heart disease, SIDs, allergies and such, but didn't discuss autoimmune disease.

Can autoimmune disease be inherited? This is a very good question to ask when considering family health history.

The short answer to this question is No. And Yes.

Sigh. Nothing is simple in autoimmune disease, is it? It seems that the tendency to acquire an autoimmune disease is more likely in close family members. So, no, these diseases are not directly inherited. But the possibility of acquiring an AD is higher especially when combined with some environmental trigger.

From Lab Tests Online, this very good general article discusses autoimmunity:

The cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown, but it appears that there is an inherited predisposition to develop autoimmune disease in many cases.
This from Frequently Asked Questions from Johns Hopkins:
Q: Are autoimmune diseases inherited? A: Clinical and epidemiologic evidence as well as data from experimental animals demonstrate that a tendency to develop autoimmune disease is inherited. This tendency may be large or small depending on the disease but, in general, close relatives are more likely to develop the same or a related autoimmune disease. A number or genes have been implicated in causing autoimmune disease, primarily genes related to the human major histocompatibility complex called HLA.
Q: If autoimmune diseases are not primarily inherited, what causes them?
A: It seems likely that environmental factors acting with the genetic predisposition of the patient are responsible for triggering autoimmune disease. A few such triggers have been identified, including a number of drugs that are associated with some forms of lupus, thrombocytopenia, hemolytic anemia and other autoimmune disorders. Infections can be followed by an autoimmune disease in a few instances such as rheumatic fever followed by a streptococcal infection and Guillain-Barre` syndrome caused by chlamydia. A great deal of circumstantial evidence suggests that viruses may play a role in initiating some autoimmune diseases. A number of nutrients have been studied including iodine which contribute to the onset of autoimmune thyroid disease. In most cases, however, we do not have clear evidence of a particular environmental trigger of autoimmune disease.
Since Baby Boy is not a blood relative, I know that along with the toys and clothes and flowers and balloons and hugs and kisses, my autoimmune disease is not included in my gifts to him.

I now know that I have given this tendency to my children and future grandchildren, however.

Let's hope that this gift remains unwrapped.

7 comments:

-k said...

Thank you for posting this. This is something that has weighed heavily on my mind lately. My mother suffers from RA and what is probably lupus or sjogren's. I also have an aunt with MS. And after trying to ignore it for sometime, I now have to face that there's something causing havok in my system.Though my problem may not be autoimmune, it's a possibility I have to atleast think about.

Isis said...

I suspect and am actually quite certain that my Sjögrens was triggered by chicken pox, which I contracted from my daughter when I was 40 years old. I survived the pox, but my immune system went haywire... No one else in my family has auto-immune issues (or maybe the predisposition has been dormant for many generations), but the infectious trigger is a fact I can attest to.

Jenny Pettit said...

Hi, I just found your blog when a friend sent me a link to your recent "chocolate cake" post and I've been reading through some other posts. I just started my own blog this month about my experience with SS (and other conditions), and see that you've written on many of the same topics I have or plan to. This is one of them...I have a post about family histories and in it I mention that I believe in the "genetic predisposition + environmental trigger" theory (my trigger was the sun). Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, it helps piece things together!

Julia said...

HI Jenny,

Thanks for reading - and your comments. Glad to hear that you are blogging about Sjogren's and other invisible illnesses!

Rayne said...

My family is actually wrought with autoimmune diseases from both sides, paternal and maternal and the only actual tie for both sides is the fact that my mother's family is Cherokee and Arapoho Indian, with the Arapaho Indian coming from my great-grandfather's marriage to an Arapaho Indian wife known to me only as "Poor Granny," which is what her grandchildren called her much as my generation referred to my half Cherokee, half Arapaho grandmother as Grams. Grams married a Cherokee husband.

My great-grandfather who was full Cherokee and the next to the last of the "pure" bloodline never experienced autoimmune disease; however, his wife many of her siblings, many of his siblings, and all of their children had some form of autoimmune disease. My grams had rheumatoid arthritis and died from complications from RA possibly brought on or complicated by brown lung from the cotton mill where she worked most of her life when she wasn't working in the fields or working in the pottery studio she and her father run and where I learned to throw pottery on a manual kick wheel.

All her sisters and most of her brothers had (as far as I know, there is only one of her brothers alive though I am not 100% sure but I know he was alive as of 5 to 8 yrs ago) some form of autoimmune disease.

My mother's generation has 10 children in total and out of the 10 children, 1 is adopted and therefore doesn't have an autoimmune disease, another was a step-sibling so he never had it but then again he died on his 16 birthday by drowning. Her other siblings all have some form of autoimmune disease and so far, we have lost the oldest sisters, both of which had autoimmune disease with one aunt passing from RA with cancer that was so far progressed she only lived 3 days after ending up in the ER. She passed away 3 years after the oldest sister and the only real mother I knew. She died from RA and complicated heart problems, which the doctors claim RA had been causing damage to her heart for years until it finally gave up March 5, 2004, and two weeks prior to that she called a family meeting to name me as the new matriarch of the family because she knew she was dying. Two weeks later she was gone; she died peacefully in her sleep in the early daylight hours of the morning. A brother is in a wheelchair from RA and has the crippling variety and his son is the 1st of my generation as he had juvenile RA that left him in a wheelchair. He was actually in New Orleans when Katrina was heading that way but he was taken out by ambulance and we found him finally after 6 months of searching in a facility in Houston safe and sound.

I am the 2nd in my generation with 2 more following me that are diagnosed and others who are symptomatic including my baby brother who is just now starting to become symptomatic.
Cont'd 1 of 2

Rayne said...

Cont'd 2 of 3

My birth father's family is equally as caught up in the autoimmune diseases quandary and the ethnic heritage although the only difference between the families is that my birth father's family name began with 2 brothers who came to the US in 1600 from Ireland and married Cherokee wives as did their sons and so on and so on until according to the family genealogist who has been tracing our history for more than 50 years now says that all that remains of the Irish ancestry is the propensity for having sad family stories that never end well and that's all that is left from the actual Irish bloodline as it was bred out with the marrying and having children within the Cherokee tribe of the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians just as my mother's family are descended from the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians. I am unsure of where Poor Granny originated and there are no records on her thanks to Hurricane Fran which took the roof off one of my aunt's houses and with it went all the documentation of our family history as it was only written history kept in books although each generation knows our family legends, traditions, the passing of one matriarch to another, and the herbal medicine, and herbal cleansing of the house at various times of the year.

My birth father's mother had an autoimmune disease as did her 13 siblings; my paternal grandfather did not have an autoimmune disease but his sisters did and out of 7 children, 1 died shortly after birth from spina bifida, there are many of the siblings with autoimmune diseases except the brothers do not seem to have them. But, the sisters do and the aunt who does the genealogy has Celiac and lichen planus. She has to watch everything she eats because it can set off a flare that can last for months.

The only common denominator within the families is the bloodline because the families themselves including my own have lived from one end of the country to the other. My little brother and I were dragged from pillar to post growing up. I personally attended something like 7 or 8 different schools. Much of the moving about was due to the abuse at the hands of my birth father thanks to his mean streak and his alcoholism. I have cousins and aunts from California out west all across the country to the east coast up and down the border and various spots in between so I can rule out environmental for the most part as we were spread apart for much of our lives although, my birth father's family did tend to grow and remain in the county to put down roots but many of the children and their children moved off to various places.

Rayne said...

Cont'd 3 of 3

My maternal grandmother we called Grams wanted to be buried at a cemetery that is rather large today and it sits on a major highway that goes through the county's towns were we have lived at one point or another. The reason she wanted to be laid to rest there was so that when any of the children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren came back for visits, they would have an easy time to stop by to keep her company, of course when she wasn't watching over them instead. LOL!

So as far as my family seems to go, it runs right along the theory of the highest proportions of those with autoimmune diseases tend to be highest within certain ethnic groups including Native American Indians, Asian, and African-descendants. The last bit of information I read included those of Hispanic descent although I do not think it should separate Hispanic descendants given that most are descended among a branch of a Native American Indian ancestry so it still leaves three ethnic groups; however, one must take into account that Native American Indians and Asians both descended from Mongolians but they split off when some crossed the land bridge to North America when it existed then cut off travel from Asia yet there is still a high number of Asian descendants who suffer with autoimmune diseases.

I may be wrong but this is what I have learned over the years from studying my own family history and helping my aunt with tracing down family roots, which in many ways helped me locate by association, branches of my maternal family as the two separate families came from the same band of Cherokee Indians. She was even able to find some of our ancestors who were on the Trail of Tears in addition to others who hid in the mountains of NC, Ky, Va, and Tn and ultimately a number of those settled on the reservation in NC. There is a story from my mother's family that my great-grandfather and his little brother and parents attempted to go live on the Cherokee Reservation in Oklahoma because we had family who were relocated there but they only made it not quite halfway before having to turn back because they ran out of supplies and my great-great grandmother had become ill. This could have been an autoimmune disease illness but nobody knows for certain; however, there were stories written in the journals that did talk of illnesses with symptoms similar to autoimmune diseases but there is no way to verify the information because there was not enough written down and now the journals are gone thanks to a hurricane taking off the roof of the house where the journals were stored.

Please forgive the length. I was attempting to connect the dots here to show how I come to the conclusion it must be genetic given that my family (paternal and maternal) have had members with autoimmune diseases that lived close together as well as others with autoimmune diseases who were scattered to the four winds across the country with the only tie besides relation being ethnic ancestry.

It wasn't until my mother's generation did the bloodline start to blend out. Of course my Poor Granny and Grams wouldn't be pleased with me because I didn't marry a "nice young Indian boy." Instead, I married a handsome, warm-hearted blonde-hair, blue-eyed man of European descent who when someone within his family with money had their family traced, it went back to a family crest in England. My MIL says it was one of the wealthy in the family that had the family tree mapped because she nor her siblings could have afforded what it cost to go all the way to England to verify the documentation. It was copied for the family members so they could add to it with each generation. It helps my girls with their family tree projects in school for their dad's side but mine is somewhat of a mystery once you go a generation or two beyond my great-grandfather.

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