From a population-based sample of 15,504 patients attending Canadian multiple sclerosis (MS) clinics, we have determined the frequency of conjugal MS and have estimated the recurrence risk in offspring of such matings. Twenty-three MS cases were found among 13,550 spouses of study probands for a crude conjugal rate of 0.17% (95% CI of 0.10%-0.24%). Despite ascertainment bias that expectedly inflates this number, this is a frequency intermediate between the point prevalence (0.1%) and lifetime risk (0.2%) for the general population and close to an order of magnitude less than reported for half siblings reared apart (1.06%) from the same population. Six of the 49 offspring of conjugal pairs also had MS, and age conversion gives a rate similar to the concordance rate for Canadian monozygotic twins. However, this correction may not be appropriate in this special case. Despite an ascertainment bias in favor of recognizing affected spouses and a large population sample, the common environment in adulthood shared by spousal pairs could not be shown to increase the risk of conjugal MS. Although the high recurrence rate in offspring is similarly subject to an upward bias, the low risk for MS spouses and the high risk for offspring support other data indicating that familial risk is genetically determined. Furthermore, these results imply that susceptibility alleles are shared by unrelated individuals with the disease.
Comment In: Ann Neurol. 2001 Oct;50(4):552-311601510