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The COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins) project is a large international collaborative effort to analyze individual-level phenotype data from twins in multiple cohorts from different environments. The main objective is to study factors that modify genetic and environmental variation of height, body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) and size at birth, and additionally to address other research questions such as long-term consequences of birth size. The project started in 2013 and is open to all twin projects in the world having height and weight measures on twins with information on zygosity. Thus far, 54 twin projects from 24 countries have provided individual-level data. The CODATwins database includes 489,981 twin individuals (228,635 complete twin pairs). Since many twin cohorts have collected longitudinal data, there is a total of 1,049,785 height and weight observations. For many cohorts, we also have information on birth weight and length, own smoking behavior and own or parental education. We found that the heritability estimates of height and BMI systematically changed from infancy to old age. Remarkably, only minor differences in the heritability estimates were found across cultural–geographic regions, measurement time and birth cohort for height and BMI. In addition to genetic epidemiological studies, we looked at associations of height and BMI with education, birth weight and smoking status. Within-family analyses examined differences within same-sex and opposite-sex dizygotic twins in birth size and later development. The CODATwins project demonstrates the feasibility and value of international collaboration to address gene-by-exposure interactions that require large sample sizes and address the effects of different exposures across time, geographical regions and socioeconomic status.
Whether monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins differ from each other in a variety of phenotypes is important for genetic twin modeling and for inferences made from twin studies in general. We analyzed whether there were differences in individual, maternal and paternal education between MZ and DZ twins in a large pooled dataset. Information was gathered on individual education for 218,362 adult twins from 27 twin cohorts (53% females; 39% MZ twins), and on maternal and paternal education for 147,315 and 143,056 twins respectively, from 28 twin cohorts (52% females; 38% MZ twins). Together, we had information on individual or parental education from 42 twin cohorts representing 19 countries. The original education classifications were transformed to education years and analyzed using linear regression models. Overall, MZ males had 0.26 (95% CI [0.21, 0.31]) years and MZ females 0.17 (95% CI [0.12, 0.21]) years longer education than DZ twins. The zygosity difference became smaller in more recent birth cohorts for both males and females. Parental education was somewhat longer for fathers of DZ twins in cohorts born in 1990–1999 (0.16 years, 95% CI [0.08, 0.25]) and 2000 or later (0.11 years, 95% CI [0.00, 0.22]), compared with fathers of MZ twins. The results show that the years of both individual and parental education are largely similar in MZ and DZ twins. We suggest that the socio-economic differences between MZ and DZ twins are so small that inferences based upon genetic modeling of twin data are not affected.
Cortisol is the primary output of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and is central to the biological stress response, with wide-ranging effects on psychiatric health. Despite well-studied biological pathways of glucocorticoid function, little attention has been paid to the role of genetic variation. Conventional salivary, urinary and serum measures are strongly influenced by diurnal variation and transient reactivity. Recently developed technology can be used to measure cortisol accumulation over several months in hair, thus indexing chronic HPA function.
In a socio-economically diverse sample of 1070 twins/multiples (ages 7.80–19.47 years) from the Texas Twin Project, we estimated effects of sex, age and socio-economic status (SES) on hair concentrations of cortisol and its inactive metabolite, cortisone, along with their interactions with genetic and environmental factors. This is the first genetic study of hair neuroendocrine concentrations and the largest twin study of neuroendocrine concentrations in any tissue type.
Glucocorticoid concentrations increased with age for females, but not males. Genetic factors accounted for approximately half of the variation in cortisol and cortisone. Shared environmental effects dissipated over adolescence. Higher SES was related to shallower increases in cortisol with age. SES was unrelated to cortisone, and did not significantly moderate genetic effects on either cortisol or cortisone.
Genetic factors account for sizable proportions of glucocorticoid variation across the entire age range examined, whereas shared environmental influences are modest, and only apparent at earlier ages. Chronic glucocorticoid output appears to be more consistently related to biological sex, age and genotype than to experiential factors that cluster within nuclear families.
A trend toward greater body size in dizygotic (DZ) than in monozygotic (MZ) twins has been suggested by some but not all studies, and this difference may also vary by age. We analyzed zygosity differences in mean values and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) among male and female twins from infancy to old age. Data were derived from an international database of 54 twin cohorts participating in the COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins), and included 842,951 height and BMI measurements from twins aged 1 to 102 years. The results showed that DZ twins were consistently taller than MZ twins, with differences of up to 2.0 cm in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.9 cm in adulthood. Similarly, a greater mean BMI of up to 0.3 kg/m2 in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.2 kg/m2 in adulthood was observed in DZ twins, although the pattern was less consistent. DZ twins presented up to 1.7% greater height and 1.9% greater BMI than MZ twins; these percentage differences were largest in middle and late childhood and decreased with age in both sexes. The variance of height was similar in MZ and DZ twins at most ages. In contrast, the variance of BMI was significantly higher in DZ than in MZ twins, particularly in childhood. In conclusion, DZ twins were generally taller and had greater BMI than MZ twins, but the differences decreased with age in both sexes.
For over 100 years, the genetics of human anthropometric traits has attracted scientific interest. In particular, height and body mass index (BMI, calculated as kg/m2) have been under intensive genetic research. However, it is still largely unknown whether and how heritability estimates vary between human populations. Opportunities to address this question have increased recently because of the establishment of many new twin cohorts and the increasing accumulation of data in established twin cohorts. We started a new research project to analyze systematically (1) the variation of heritability estimates of height, BMI and their trajectories over the life course between birth cohorts, ethnicities and countries, and (2) to study the effects of birth-related factors, education and smoking on these anthropometric traits and whether these effects vary between twin cohorts. We identified 67 twin projects, including both monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, using various sources. We asked for individual level data on height and weight including repeated measurements, birth related traits, background variables, education and smoking. By the end of 2014, 48 projects participated. Together, we have 893,458 height and weight measures (52% females) from 434,723 twin individuals, including 201,192 complete twin pairs (40% monozygotic, 40% same-sex dizygotic and 20% opposite-sex dizygotic) representing 22 countries. This project demonstrates that large-scale international twin studies are feasible and can promote the use of existing data for novel research purposes.
Early pubertal timing in girls is associated with elevated risk for dieting and eating pathology. The relative importance of biological versus socio-environmental mechanisms in explaining this association remains unclear. Moreover, these mechanisms may differ between objective measures of pubertal development and girls' subjective perceptions of their own maturation.
The sample comprised 924 sister pairs from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Objective pubertal timing (menarcheal age), girls' perceptions of pubertal status and timing relative to peers, dieting and disordered eating behaviors were assessed during a series of confidential in-home interviews.
Behavioral genetic models indicated that common genetic influences accounted for the association between early menarcheal age and increased risk for dieting in adolescence. In contrast, girls' subjective perceptions of their timing relative to peers were associated with dieting through an environmental pathway. Overall, subjective and objective measures of pubertal timing accounted for 12% of the variance in dieting.
Genetic differences in menarcheal age increase risk for dieting among adolescent girls, while girls' perceptions of their maturation represent an environmentally mediated risk.
Associations between parental depression and offspring affective and disruptive disorders are well documented. Few genetically informed studies have explored the processes underlying intergenerational associations.
A semi-structured interview assessing DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders was administered to twins (n=1296) from the Australian Twin Register (ATR), their spouses (n=1046) and offspring (n=2555). We used the Children of Twins (CoT) design to delineate the extent to which intergenerational associations were consistent with a causal influence or due to genetic confounds.
In between-family analyses, parental depression was associated significantly with offspring depression [hazard ratio (HR) 1.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.20–1.93] and conduct disorder (CD; HR 2.27, CI 1.31–3.93). Survival analysis indicated that the intergenerational transmission of depression is consistent with a causal (environmental) inference, with a significant intergenerational association in offspring of discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs (HR 1.39, CI 1.00–1.94). Logistic regression analysis suggested that the parental depression–offspring CD association was due to shared genetic liability in the parents and offspring. No intergenerational association was found when comparing the offspring of discordant MZ twins [odds ratio (OR) 1.41, CI 0.63–3.14], but offspring of discordant dizygotic (DZ) twins differed in their rates of CD (OR 2.53, CI 0.95–6.76). All findings remained after controlling for several measured covariates, including history of depression and CD in the twins' spouses.
The mechanisms underlying associations between parental depression and offspring psychopathology seem to differ depending on the outcome. The results are consistent with a causal environmental role of parental depression in offspring depression whereas common genetic factors account for the association of parental depression and offspring CD.
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