Five large families including 1,189 individuals were each ascertained through one proband with essential hypertension. Four of the probands were white and one was black. Erythrocyte catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) activity was measured in 551 family members. Standard statistical methods were used to investigate sex, age, and family differences in COMT activity. Maximum-likelihood methods were used to fit mixtures of normal distributions to COMT activity. COMT activity is distinctly bimodal. Pedigree segregation analyses were performed on the untransformed COMT values, their square roots, and natural logarithms in each family. In no family and under none of the three transformations was it possible to reject the hypothesis of Mendelian transmission of a major gene with two alleles in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. In most cases a genetic hypothesis with complete dominance or recessiveness, or a hypothesis of equal transmission probabilities was rejected. While the different transformations had a large effect on the skewness and kurtosis of the overall distribution of the data, they had little effect on the outcome of these segregation analyses. Therefore, this study strongly supports the concept that variation in COMT activity is due in large part to the effects of a major gene.
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