Genetic Epidemiology of Seropositivity for Trypanosoma cruzi Infection in Rural Goias, Brazil

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  • Department of Genetics, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, University of Brasilia, San Antonio, Texas, Brazil
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Chagas' disease is a zoonotic disease found throughout Latin America. Despite control programs in many of the affected countries, infection with Trypanosoma cruzi continues to be a major public health concern. In Brazil alone, approximately 53 million people live in endemic areas. Research with humans and with animal models indicates that there is variation in susceptibility to infection with T. cruzi. The reasons for this variation are not known although several studies have implicated genetic factors. An indirect immunofluorescence assay was used to assess seropositivity for T. cruzi infection in 716 adults from the municipality of Posse, Goias, Brazil. Detailed genealogic information was gathered at the time of sampling, which allowed assignment of 525 individuals to 146 pedigrees containing between two and 103 individuals; the remaining 191 unrelated individuals were retained as independents in the analysis. Using a maximum likelihood variance decomposition approach, we performed quantitative genetic analyses to determine if genetic factors could partially account for the observed pattern of seropositivity. The maximum likelihood estimate of the heritability of T. cruzi infection was 0.56 ± 0.27 (mean ± SE), indicating that genetic factors account for more than half of the observed variation in infection status. An additional 23% of the variation (c2 = 0.23 ± 0.09) is attributable to the effects of shared environment, as assessed by common household. The results indicate that genetic factors play an important role in determining epidemiologic patterns of T. cruzi infection. Further characterization of these genetic factors may suggest new biologic areas to be targeted by prevention and intervention programs.