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In studies of singletons, a range of early-life characteristics have been reported to be associated with handedness, but some of these associations have failed to replicate. We examined associations between 23 early life characteristics with handedness in a large sample of 37,495 5-year-old twins. We considered three definitions of handedness: left-handedness (LH), mixed-handedness (MH), and non-right-handedness (NRH). Our main aim was to test whether the associations with sex, birth weight, gestational age, and season of birth — as reported in singletons — replicate in twins, and to examine twin-specific variables, including zygosity, chorionicity, birth order, and intertwin delivery time. Compared to previously published data from adults born as singletons (7.23%), the prevalence of NRH was higher in both twins (16.19%) and their parents (15.09%). In the twins, LH and NRH were associated with parents’ LH. Male sex and lower gestational age were associated with NRH, and LH was associated with not being breastfed. MH was related to neurodevelopmental delays and higher externalizing problems later in childhood. Other previously reported associations were not replicated, and no twin-specific characteristics were related to handedness. These results emphasize the importance of considering multiple definitions of handedness and indicate a small number of replicated associations across studies.
Metabolites are small molecules involved in cellular metabolism where they act as reaction substrates or products. The term ‘metabolomics’ refers to the comprehensive study of these molecules. The concentrations of metabolites in biological tissues are under genetic control, but this is limited by environmental factors such as diet. In adult mono- and dizygotic twin pairs, we estimated the contribution of genetic and shared environmental influences on metabolite levels by structural equation modeling and tested whether the familial resemblance for metabolite levels is mainly explained by genetic or by environmental factors that are shared by family members. Metabolites were measured across three platforms: two based on proton nuclear magnetic resonance techniques and one employing mass spectrometry. These three platforms comprised 237 single metabolic traits of several chemical classes. For the three platforms, metabolites were assessed in 1407, 1037 and 1116 twin pairs, respectively. We carried out power calculations to establish what percentage of shared environmental variance could be detected given these sample sizes. Our study did not find evidence for a systematic contribution of shared environment, defined as the influence of growing up together in the same household, on metabolites assessed in adulthood. Significant heritability was observed for nearly all 237 metabolites; significant contribution of the shared environment was limited to 6 metabolites. The top quartile of the heritability distribution was populated by 5 of the 11 investigated chemical classes. In this quartile, metabolites of the class lipoprotein were significantly overrepresented, whereas metabolites of classes glycerophospholipids and glycerolipids were significantly underrepresented.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common mood disorder, with a heritability of around 34%. Molecular genetic studies made significant progress and identified genetic markers associated with the risk of MDD; however, progress is slowed down by substantial heterogeneity as MDD is assessed differently across international cohorts. Here, we used a standardized online approach to measure MDD in multiple cohorts in the Netherlands and evaluated whether this approach can be used in epidemiological and genetic association studies of depression.
Within the Biobank Netherlands Internet Collaboration (BIONIC) project, we collected MDD data in eight cohorts involving 31 936 participants, using the online Lifetime Depression Assessment Self-report (LIDAS), and estimated the prevalence of current and lifetime MDD in 22 623 unrelated individuals. In a large Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) twin-family dataset (n ≈ 18 000), we estimated the heritability of MDD, and the prediction of MDD in a subset (n = 4782) through Polygenic Risk Score (PRS).
Estimates of current and lifetime MDD prevalence were 6.7% and 18.1%, respectively, in line with population estimates based on validated psychiatric interviews. In the NTR heritability estimates were 0.34/0.30 (s.e. = 0.02/0.02) for current/lifetime MDD, respectively, showing that the LIDAS gives similar heritability rates for MDD as reported in the literature. The PRS predicted risk of MDD (OR 1.23, 95% CI 1.15–1.32, R2 = 1.47%).
By assessing MDD status in the Netherlands using the LIDAS instrument, we were able to confirm previously reported MDD prevalence and heritability estimates, which suggests that this instrument can be used in epidemiological and genetic association studies of depression.
Here we provide an update of the 2013 report on the Nigerian Twin and Sibling Registry (NTSR). The major aim of the NTSR is to understand genetic and environmental influences and their interplay in psychological and mental health development in Nigerian children and adolescents. Africans have the highest twin birth rates among all human populations, and Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Due to its combination of large population and high twin birth rates, Nigeria has one of the largest twin populations in the world. In this article, we provide current updates on the NTSR samples recruited, recruitment procedures, zygosity assessment and findings emerging from the NTSR.
The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) is a national register in which twins, multiples and their parents, siblings, spouses and other family members participate. Here we describe the NTR resources that were created from more than 30 years of data collections; the development and maintenance of the newly developed database systems, and the possibilities these resources create for future research. Since the early 1980s, the NTR has enrolled around 120,000 twins and a roughly equal number of their relatives. The majority of twin families have participated in survey studies, and subsamples took part in biomaterial collection (e.g., DNA) and dedicated projects, for example, for neuropsychological, biomarker and behavioral traits. The recruitment into the NTR is all inclusive without any restrictions on enrollment. These resources — the longitudinal phenotyping, the extended pedigree structures and the multigeneration genotyping — allow for future twin-family research that will contribute to gene discovery, causality modeling, and studies of genetic and cultural inheritance.
Twin registries often take part in large collaborative projects and are major contributors to genome-wide association (GWA) meta-analysis studies. In this article, we describe genotyping of twin-family populations from Australia, the Midwestern USA (Avera Twin Register), the Netherlands (Netherlands Twin Register), as well as a sample of mothers of twins from Nigeria to assess the extent, if any, of genetic differences between them. Genotyping in all cohorts was done using a custom-designed Illumina Global Screening Array (GSA), optimized to improve imputation quality for population-specific GWA studies. We investigated the degree of genetic similarity between the populations using several measures of population variation with genotype data generated from the GSA. Visualization of principal component analysis (PCA) revealed that the Australian, Dutch and Midwestern American populations exhibit negligible interpopulation stratification when compared to each other, to a reference European population and to globally distant populations. Estimations of fixation indices (FST values) between the Australian, Midwestern American and Netherlands populations suggest minimal genetic differentiation compared to the estimates between each population and a genetically distinct cohort (i.e., samples from Nigeria genotyped on GSA). Thus, results from this study demonstrate that genotype data from the Australian, Dutch and Midwestern American twin-family populations can be reasonably combined for joint-genetic analysis.
Objective: The human gut microbiota has been demonstrated to be associated with a number of host phenotypes, including obesity and a number of obesity-associated phenotypes. This study is aimed at further understanding and describing the relationship between the gut microbiota and obesity-associated measurements obtained from human participants. Subjects/Methods: Here, we utilize genetically informative study designs, including a four-corners design (extremes of genetic risk for BMI and of observed BMI; N = 50) and the BMI monozygotic (MZ) discordant twin pair design (N = 30), in order to help delineate the role of host genetics and the gut microbiota in the development of obesity. Results: Our results highlight a negative association between BMI and alpha diversity of the gut microbiota. The low genetic risk/high BMI group of individuals had a lower gut microbiota alpha diversity when compared to the other three groups. Although the difference in alpha diversity between the lean and heavy groups of the BMI-discordant MZ twin design did not achieve significance, this difference was observed to be in the expected direction, with the heavier participants having a lower average alpha diversity. We have also identified nine OTUs observed to be associated with either a leaner or heavier phenotype, with enrichment for OTUs classified to the Ruminococcaceae and Oxalobacteraceae taxonomic families. Conclusion: Our study presents evidence of a relationship between BMI and alpha diversity of the gut microbiota. In addition to these findings, a number of OTUs were found to be significantly associated with host BMI. These findings may highlight separate subtypes of obesity, one driven by genetic factors, the other more heavily influenced by environmental factors.
Migraine and tension-type headache (TTH) are often viewed as distinct entities and defined as such in the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II) criteria, although there is also empirical evidence to suggest they may be etiologically similar. This study aims to investigate whether migraine and TTH are etiologically related conditions. First, we explored whether migraine and TTH were associated with the same environmental and lifestyle risk factors at the population level. Second, we examined comorbidity of migraine and TTH in a twin design. By comparing the associations in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs, we investigated whether the comorbidity can be explained by genetic factors that influence both conditions. Results indicated that migraine and TTH were largely associated with the same environmental and lifestyle factors, including younger age, female sex, higher body mass index, more depression, stress at home, and less participation in regular exercise, with consistently stronger effects for migraine than for TTH. Migraine in one twin was significantly associated with TTH in the other twin. A stronger cross-trait, cross-twin association in MZ than DZ twins suggested that this comorbidity may also be partly due to shared genetic factors, although the difference in associations was not significant. In conclusion, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that migraine and TTH have partly shared etiologies. For both treatment and research, it may be advisable not to make a rigid distinction, but to treat migraine and TTH as related conditions.
Twin research has offered evidence that monozygotic (MZ) twins are more socially close than dizygotic (DZ) twins, but has not paid much attention to the way twins compare themselves with their co-twin. The few studies in this area suggest that ‘horizontal comparisons’ (social comparison motivated by solidarity or communion with others) matter more for MZ twins than for DZ twins, at least when the co-twin is the social comparison standard. Consistent with this view, we predicted higher interest in MZ twins relative to DZ twins to select their co-twin rather than other people in general as the social comparison standard. The Social Comparison Orientation (SCO) scale, which measures the inclination to compare with others in a horizontal rather than vertical mode (comparing either upward or downward), was administered in 90 MZ pairs and 57 same-sex DZ pairs (63% female; average age 18.06 years) from the Netherlands Twin Register. MZ twin pairs showed significantly higher SCO scores than DZ twin pairs (with a large effect size) on the co-twin SCO, whereas the two groups did not differ from each other on the general SCO excluding the co-twin as social comparison standard. In MZ twin pairs, anxiety was associated with social comparison with others in general, not with their co-twin. For both scales, twin resemblance was explained by additive genetic variance. The present findings provide direct evidence that horizontal comparisons with the co-twin are of particular importance for MZ twins.
In 2009, the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) for major depressive disorder (MDD) highlighted an association with PCLO locus on chromosome 7, although not reaching genome-wide significance level. In the present study, we revisited the original GWAS after increasing the overall sample size and the number of interrogated SNPs. In an analysis comparing 1,942 cases with lifetime diagnosis of MDD and 4,565 controls, PCLO showed a genome-wide significant association with MDD at SNP (rs2715157, p = 2.91 × 10−8) and gene-based (p = 1.48 × 10−7) level. Our results confirm the potential role of the PCLO gene in MDD, which is worth further replication and functional studies.
The large body of literature on the association between blood pressure (BP) and cognitive functioning has yielded mixed results, possibly due to the presence of non-linear effects across age, or because BP affects specific brain areas differently, impacting more on some cognitive skills than on others. If a robust association was detected among BP and specific cognitive tasks, the causal nature of reported associations between BP and cognition could be investigated in twin data, which allow a test of alternative explanations, including genetic pleiotropy. The present study first examines the association between BP and cognition in a sample of 1,140 participants with an age range between 10 and 86 years. Linear and quadratic effects of systolic BP (SBP) and diastolic BP (DBP) on cognitive functioning were examined for 17 tests across five functions. Associations were corrected for effects of sex and linear and quadratic effects of age. Second, to test a causal model, data from 123 monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs were analyzed to test whether cognitive functioning of the twins with the higher BP was different from that of the co-twins with lower BP. Associations between BP and cognitive functioning were absent for the majority of the cognitive tests, with the exception of a lower speed of emotion identification and verbal reasoning in subjects with high diastolic BP. In the MZ twin pair analyses, no effects of BP on cognition were found. We conclude that in the population at large, BP level is not associated with cognitive functioning in a clinically meaningful way.
Persistent tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are major public health concerns worldwide. Both alcohol and nicotine dependence (AD, ND) are genetically influenced complex disorders that exhibit a high degree of comorbidity. To identify gene variants contributing to one or both of these addictions, we first conducted a pooling-based genomewide association study (GWAS) in an Australian population, using Illumina Infinium 1M arrays. Allele frequency differences were compared between pooled DNA from case and control groups for: (1) AD, 1224 cases and 1162 controls; (2) ND, 1273 cases and 1113 controls; and (3) comorbid AD and ND, 599 cases and 488 controls. Secondly, we carried out a GWAS in independent samples from the Netherlands for AD and for ND. Thirdly, we performed a meta-analysis of the 10, 000 most significant AD- and ND-related SNPs from the Australian and Dutch samples. In the Australian GWAS, one SNP achieved genomewide significance (p < 5 x 10-8) for ND (rs964170 in ARHGAPlOon chromosome 4, p = 4.43 x 10”8) and three others for comorbid AD/ND (rs7530302 near MARK1 on chromosome 1 (p = 1.90 x 10-9), rs1784300 near DDX6 on chromosome 11 (p = 2.60 x 10-9) and rs12882384 in KIAA1409 on chromosome 14 (p = 4.86 x 10-8)). None of the SNPs achieved genomewide significance in the Australian/Dutch meta-analysis, but a gene network diagram based on the top-results revealed overrepre-sentation of genes coding for ion-channels and cell adhesion molecules. Further studies will be requirec before the detailed causes of comorbidity between AC and ND are understood.
Monozygotic (MZ) twins are genetically identical at conception, making them informative subjects for studies on somatic mutations. Copy number variants (CNVs) are responsible for a substantial part of genetic variation, have relatively high mutation rates, and are likely to be involved in phenotypic variation. We conducted a genome-wide survey for post-twinning de novo CNVs in 1,097 MZ twin pairs. Comparisons between MZ twins were made by CNVs measured in DNA from blood or buccal epithelium with the Affymetrix 6.0 microarray and two calling algorithms. In addition, CNV concordance rates were compared between the different sources of DNA, and gene-enrichment association analyses were conducted for thought problems (TP) and attention problems (AP) using CNVs concordant within MZ pairs. We found a total of 153 putative post-twinning de novo CNVs >100 kb, of which the majority resided in 15q11.2. Based on the discordance of raw intensity signals a selection was made of 20 de novo CNVs for a qPCR validation experiments. Two out of 20 post-twinning de novo CNVs were validated with qPCR in the same twin pair. The 13-year-old MZ twin pair that showed two discordances in CN in 15q11.2 in their buccal DNA did not show large phenotypic differences. From the remaining 18 putative de novo CNVs, 17 were deletions or duplications that were concordant within MZ twin pairs. Concordance rates within twin pairs of CNV calls with CN ≠ 2 were ~80%. Buccal epithelium-derived DNA showed a slightly but significantly higher concordance rate, and blood-derived DNA showed significantly more concordant CNVs per twin pair. The gene-enrichment analyses on concordant CNVs showed no significant associations between CNVs overlapping with genes involved in neuronal processes and TP or AP after accounting for the source of DNA.
Studies on the determinants of physical activity have traditionally focused on social factors and environmental barriers, but recent research has shown the additional importance of biological factors, including genetic variation. Here we review the major tenets of this research to arrive at three major conclusions: First, individual differences in physical activity traits are significantly influenced by genetic factors, but genetic contribution varies strongly over age, with heritability of leisure time exercise behavior ranging from 27% to 84% and heritability of sedentary behaviors ranging from 9% to 48%. Second, candidate gene approaches based on animal or human QTLs or on biological relevance (e.g., dopaminergic or cannabinoid activity in the brain, or exercise performance influencing muscle physiology) have not yet yielded the necessary evidence to specify the genetic mechanisms underlying the heritability of physical activity traits. Third, there is significant genetic modulation of the beneficial effects of daily physical activity patterns on strength and endurance improvements and on health-related parameters like body mass index. Further increases in our understanding of the genetic determinants of sedentary and exercise behaviors as well as the genetic modulation of their effects on fitness and health will be key to meaningful future intervention on these behaviors.
This study assessed to what extent genetic and environmental factors contributed to individual differences in adolescent sleep duration, and whether genetic and environmental contributions to sleep duration changed throughout adolescence. A twin-family design was used to gain insight into the genetic and environmental contributions to variation in sleep duration. The study sample consisted of 6,319 adolescent twins (44% males) and 1,359 non-twin siblings (44% males) in the age range of 12 to 20 years (mean age = 16.85, SD = 1.40). The participants self-reported usual sleep duration, which was categorized as less than 8 hours per night, 8–9 hours per night, and more than 9 hours per night. Results showed that the prevalence of shorter than optimum sleep duration, that is, less than 8 hours per night, was high, with the highest prevalence rates in later adolescence. The contribution of genetic and environmental factors to individual differences in sleep duration was dependent on age. Variation in sleep duration at the age of 12 years was accounted for by genetic (boys: 34%, girls: 36%), shared environmental (boys: 28%, girls: 45%), and non-shared environmental factors (boys: 38%, girls: 19%). At the age of 20 years, the role of genetic (boys: 47%, girls: 33%) and non-shared environmental factors (boys: 53%, girls: 67%) was more pronounced. It can be concluded from the results that individual differences in sleep duration were accounted for by genetic and non-shared environmental factors throughout adolescence, whereas shared environmental factors account for a substantial part of variation during early adolescence only.
In this study we examined the genetic architecture of variation in the pro-inflammatory state, using an extended twin-family design. Within the Netherlands Twin Register Biobank, fasting Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF-α), Interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-Reactive Protein (CRP), and fibrinogen levels were available for 3,534 twins, 1,568 of their non-twin siblings, and 2,227 parents from 3,095 families. Heritability analyses took into account the effects of current and recent illness, anti-inflammatory medication, female sex hormone status, age, sex, body mass index, smoking status, month of data collection, and batch processing. Moderate broad-sense heritability was found for all inflammatory parameters (39%, 21%, 45%, and 46% for TNF-α, IL-6, CRP and fibrinogen, respectively). For all parameters, the remaining variance was explained by unique environmental influences and not by environment shared by family members. There was no resemblance between spouses for any of the inflammatory parameters, except for fibrinogen. Also, there was no evidence for twin-specific effects. A considerable part of genetic variation was explained by non-additive genetic effects for TNF-α, CRP, and fibrinogen. For IL-6, all genetic variance was additive. This study may have implications for future genome-wide association studies by setting a clear numerical target for genome-wide screens that aim to find genetic variants regulating the levels of these pro-inflammatory markers.
We examined the genetic architecture of functional brain connectivity measures in resting state electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings. Previous studies in Dutch twins have suggested that genetic factors are a main source of variance in functional brain connectivity derived from EEG recordings. In addition, qualitative descriptors of the brain network derived from graph analysis — network clustering and average path length — are also heritable traits. Here we replicated previous findings for connectivity, quantified by the synchronization likelihood, and the graph theoretical parameters cluster coefficient and path length in an Australian sample of 16-year-old twins (879) and their siblings (93). Modeling of monozygotic and dizygotic twins and sibling resemblance indicated heritability estimates of the synchronization likelihood (27–74%) and cluster coefficient and path length in the alpha and theta band (40–44% and 23–40% respectively) and path length in the beta band frequency (41%). This corroborates synchronization likelihood and its graph theoretical derivatives cluster coefficient and path length as potential endophenotypes for behavioral traits and neurological disorders.
Neuroimaging studies have indicated abnormalities in cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical circuits in obsessive–compulsive disorder patients, but results have not been consistent. Since there are significant sex differences in human brain anatomy and obsessive–compulsive symptomatology and its developmental trajectories tend to be distinct in males and females, we investigated whether sex is a potential source of heterogeneity in neuroimaging studies on obsessive–compulsive symptoms. We selected male and female twin pairs who were concordant for scoring either high or low for obsessive–compulsive symptoms and a group of discordant pairs where one twin scored high and the co-twin scored low. The design included 24 opposite-sex twin pairs. Magnetic resonance imaging scans of 31 males scoring high for obsessive–compulsive symptoms, 41 low-scoring males, 58 high-scoring females, and 73 low-scoring females were analyzed and the interaction of obsessive–compulsive symptoms by sex on gray matter volume was assessed using voxel-based morphometry. An obsessive–compulsive symptom by sex interaction was observed for the left middle temporal gyrus, the right middle temporal gyrus, and the right precuneus. These interactions acted to reduce or hide a main effect in our study and illustrate the importance of taking sex into account when investigating the neurobiology of obsessive–compulsive symptoms.
Over the past 25 years, the Adult Netherlands Twin Register (ANTR) has collected a wealth of information on physical and mental health, lifestyle, and personality in adolescents and adults. This article provides an overview of the sources of information available, the main research findings, and an outlook for the future. Between 1991 and 2012, longitudinal surveys were completed by twins, their parents, siblings, spouses, and offspring. Data are available for 33,957 participants, with most individuals having completed two or more surveys. Smaller projects provided in-depth phenotyping, including measurements of the autonomic nervous system, neurocognitive function, and brain imaging. For 46% of the ANTR participants, DNA samples are available and whole genome scans have been obtained in more than 11,000 individuals. These data have resulted in numerous studies on heritability, gene x environment interactions, and causality, as well as gene finding studies. In the future, these studies will continue with collection of additional phenotypes, such as metabolomic and telomere length data, and detailed genetic information provided by DNA and RNA sequencing. Record linkage to national registers will allow the study of morbidity and mortality, thus providing insight into the development of health, lifestyle, and behavior across the lifespan.
The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) began in 1987 with data collection in twins and their families, including families with newborn twins and triplets. Twenty-five years later, the NTR has collected at least one survey for 70,784 children, born after 1985. For the majority of twins, longitudinal data collection has been done by age-specific surveys. Shortly after giving birth, mothers receive a first survey with items on pregnancy and birth. At age 2, a survey on growth and achievement of milestones is sent. At ages 3, 7, 9/10, and 12 parents and teachers receive a series of surveys that are targeted at the development of emotional and behavior problems. From age 14 years onward, adolescent twins and their siblings report on their behavior problems, health, and lifestyle. When the twins are 18 years and older, parents are also invited to take part in survey studies. In sub-groups of different ages, in-depth phenotyping was done for IQ, electroencephalography , MRI, growth, hormones, neuropsychological assessments, and cardiovascular measures. DNA and biological samples have also been collected and large numbers of twin pairs and parents have been genotyped for zygosity by either micro-satellites or sets of short nucleotide polymorphisms and repeat polymorphisms in candidate genes. Subject recruitment and data collection is still ongoing and the longitudinal database is growing. Data collection by record linkage in the Netherlands is beginning and we expect these combined longitudinal data to provide increased insights into the genetic etiology of development of mental and physical health in children and adolescents.