We addressed the question: Is there evidence that allelic variation in a single unmeasured gene that has a large effect on maximal activity of erythrocyte sodium-lithium countertransport (Na-Li CNT) also has pleiotropic effects on variation in plasma triglyceride levels? Complex segregation analysis models that included plasma triglyceride levels as a covariate were considered as explanations for interindividual variation in Na-Li CNT. A sample of 711 healthy adults from 254 pedigrees enrolled in the Rochester Family Heart Study was selected for this study. The majority of the pedigrees supported the hypothesis that variations in a single unmeasured non-transmitted environmental factor have large effects on the Na-Li CNT distribution. Only gender-specific first-order covariate parameters were necessary in the complex segregation models suggesting that the form of the relationship between Na-Li CNT and plasma triglyceride level was not influenced by variation in the inferred environmental factor with large effects. Stratification of the sample by this inferred environmental factor resulted in three classes of individuals with significant differences in the distributions of coronary heart disease risk factor traits, as well as interindividual variation in both Na-Li CNT and plasma triglyceride levels. These results, along with other observations from the Rochester Family Heart Study sample, emphasize the complex and multifactorial nature of the causes of interindividual variation in Na-Li CNT. Our study further suggests that new research strategies are needed for studying the relationships between genetic and environmental variation and variation in quantitative traits such as Na-Li CNT that have been identified as risk factors for hypertension.
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