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Genes associated with educational attainment may be related to or interact with adolescent alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use. Potential gene–environment interplay between educational attainment polygenic scores (EA-PGS) and adolescent alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis use was evaluated with a series of regression models fitted to data from a sample of 1871 adult Australian twins. All models controlled for age, age2, cohort, sex and genetic ancestry as fixed effects, and a genetic relatedness matrix was included as a random effect. Although there was no evidence that adolescent alcohol, tobacco or cannabis use interacted with EA-PGS to influence educational attainment, there was a significant, positive gene–environment correlation with adolescent alcohol use at all PGS thresholds (ps <.02). Higher EA-PGS were associated with an increased likelihood of using alcohol as an adolescent (ΔR2 ranged from 0.5% to 1.1%). The positive gene–environment correlation suggests a complex relationship between educational attainment and alcohol use that is due to common genetic factors.
Biomarkers may be useful endophenotypes for genetic studies if they share genetic sources of variation with the outcome, for example, with all-cause mortality. Australian adult study participants who had reported their parental survival information were included in the study: 14,169 participants had polygenic risk scores (PRS) from genotyping and up to 13,365 had biomarker results. We assessed associations between participants’ biomarker results and parental survival, and between biomarker results and eight parental survival PRS at varying p-value cut-offs. Survival in parents was associated with participants’ serum bilirubin, C-reactive protein, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and uric acid, and with LDL cholesterol for participants’ fathers but not for their mothers. PRS for all-cause mortality were associated with liver function tests (alkaline phosphatase, butyrylcholinesterase, gamma-glutamyl transferase), metabolic tests (LDL and HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, uric acid), and acute-phase reactants (C-reactive protein, globulins). Association between offspring biomarker results and parental survival demonstrates the existence of familial effects common to both, while associations between biomarker results and PRS for mortality favor at least a partial genetic cause of this covariation. Identification of genetic loci affecting mortality-associated biomarkers offers a route to the identification of additional loci affecting mortality.
Mortality risk is known to be associated with many physiological or biochemical risk factors, and polygenic risk scores (PRSs) may offer an additional or alternative approach to risk stratification. We have compared the predictive value of common biochemical tests, PRSs and information on parental survival in a cohort of twins and their families. Common biochemical test results were available for up to 13,365 apparently healthy men and women, aged 17−93 years (mean 49.0, standard deviation [SD] 13.7) at blood collection. PRSs for longevity were available for 14,169 study participants and reported parental survival for 25,784 participants. A search for information on date and cause of death was conducted through the Australian National Death Index, with median follow-up of 11.3 years. Cox regression was used to evaluate associations with mortality from all causes, cancers, cardiovascular diseases and other causes. Linear relationships with all-cause mortality were strongest for C-reactive protein, gamma-glutamyl transferase, glucose and alkaline phosphatase, with hazard ratios (HRs) of 1.16 (95% CI [1.07, 1.24]), 1.15 (95% CI 1.04–1.21), 1.13 (95% CI [1.08, 1.19]) and 1.11 (95% CI [1.05, 1.88]) per SD difference, respectively. Significant nonlinear effects were found for urea, uric acid and butyrylcholinesterase. Lipid risk factors were not statistically significant for mortality in our cohort. Family history and PRS showed weaker but significant associations with survival, with HR in the range 1.05 to 1.09 per SD difference. In conclusion, biochemical tests currently predict long-term mortality more strongly than genetic scores based on genotyping or on reported parental survival.
Research has emphasized the genetic basis of individual differences in body mass index (BMI); however, genetic factors cannot explain the rapid rise of obesity. Eating behaviors have been stipulated to be the behavioral expression of genetic risk in an obesogenic environment. In this study, we decompose variation and covariation between three key eating behaviors and BMI in a sample of 698 participants, consisting of 167 monozygotic, 150 dizygotic complete same-sex female twins and 64 incomplete pairs from a population-based twin registry in the southeast of Spain, The Murcia Twin Registry. Phenotypes were emotional eating, uncontrolled eating and cognitive restraint, measured by the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire and objectively measured BMI. Variation in eating behaviors was driven by nonshared environmental factors (range: 56%−65%), whereas shared environmental and genetic factors were secondary. All three eating behaviors were correlated with BMI (r = .19–.25). Nonshared environmental factors explained the covariations (Emotional eating–Uncontrolled eating: rE = .54, 95% CI [.43, .64]; BMI–Cognitive restraint: rE = .15, 95% CI [.01, .28]). In contrast to BMI, individual differences in eating behaviors are mostly explained by nonshared environmental factors, which also accounted for the phenotypic correlation between eating behaviors and BMI. Due to the sample size, analyses were underpowered to detect contributions of additive genetic or shared environmental factors to variation and covariation of the phenotypes. Although more research is granted, these results support that eating behaviors could be viable intervention targets to help individuals maintain a healthy weight.
Loneliness is related to mental and somatic health outcomes, including borderline personality disorder. Here, we analyze the sources of variation that are responsible for the relationship between borderline personality features (including four dimensions, affective instability, identity disturbance, negative relationships, self-harm and a total score) and loneliness. Using genetically informative data from two large nonclinical samples of adult twin pairs from Australia and the Netherlands (N = 11,329), we estimate the phenotypic, genetic and environmental correlations between self-reported borderline personality features and loneliness. Individual differences in borderline personality and loneliness were best explained by additive genetic factors with heritability estimates h2 = 41% for the borderline personality total score and h2 = 36% for loneliness, with the remaining variation explained by environmental influences that were not shared by twins from the same pair. Genetic and environmental factors influencing borderline personality (total score and four subscales separately) were also partial causes of loneliness. The correlation between loneliness and the borderline personality total score was rph = .51. The genetic correlation was estimated at rg = .64 and the environmental correlation at re = .40. Our study suggests common etiological factors in loneliness and borderline personality features.
The study and identification of genotype–environment interactions (GxE) has been a hot topic in the field of human genetics for several decades. Yet the extent to which GxE contributes to human behavior variability, and its mechanisms, remains largely unknown. Nick Martin has contributed important advances to the field of GxE for human behavior, which include methodological developments, novel analyses and reviews. Here, we will first review Nick’s contributions to the GxE research, which started during his PhD and consistently appears in many of his over 1000 publications. Then, we recount a project that led to an article testing the diathesis-stress model for the origins of depression. In this publication, we observed the presence of an interaction between polygenic risk scores for depression (the risk in our ‘genotype’) and stressful life events (the experiences from our ‘environment’), which provided the first empirical support of this model.
The Murcia Twin Registry (MTR) is the only population-based registry in Spain. Created in 2006, the registry has been growing more than a decade to become one of the references for twin research in the Mediterranean region. The MTR database currently comprises 3545 adult participants born between 1940 and 1977. It also holds a recently launched satellite registry of university students (N = 204). Along five waves of data collection, the registry has gathered questionnaire and anthropometric data, as well as biological samples. The MTR keeps its main research focus on health and health-related behaviors from a public health perspective. This includes lifestyle, health promotion, quality of life or environmental conditions. Future short-term development points to the expansion of the biobank and the continuation of the collection of longitudinal data.
We recently reported an association of offspring educational attainment with polygenic risk scores (PRS) computed on parent’s non-transmitted alleles for educational attainment using the second GWAS meta-analysis article on educational attainment published by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium. Here we test the replication of these findings using a more powerful PRS from the third GWAS meta-analysis article by the Consortium. Each of the key findings of our previous paper is replicated using this improved PRS (N = 2335 adolescent twins and their genotyped parents). The association of children’s attainment with their own PRS increased substantially with the standardized effect size, moving from β = 0.134, 95% CI = 0.079, 0.188 for EA2, to β = 0.223, 95% CI = 0.169, 0.278, p < .001, for EA3. Parent’s PRS again predicted the socioeconomic status (SES) they provided to their offspring and increased from β = 0.201, 95% CI = 0.147, 0.256 to β = 0.286, 95% CI = 0.239, 0.333. Importantly, the PRS for alleles not transmitted to their offspring — therefore acting via the parenting environment — was increased in effect size from β = 0.058, 95% CI = 0.003, 0.114 to β = 0.067, 95% CI = 0.012, 0.122, p = .016. As previously found, this non-transmitted genetic effect was fully accounted for by parental SES. The findings reinforce the conclusion that genetic effects of parenting are substantial, explain approximately one-third the magnitude of an individual’s own genetic inheritance and are mediated by parental socioeconomic competence.
Vulnerability to depression can be measured in different ways. We here examine how genetic risk factors are inter-related for lifetime major depression (MD), self-report current depressive symptoms and the personality trait Neuroticism.
We obtained data from three population-based adult twin samples (Virginia n = 4672, Australia #1 n = 3598 and Australia #2 n = 1878) to which we fitted a common factor model where risk for ‘broadly defined depression’ was indexed by (i) lifetime MD assessed at personal interview, (ii) depressive symptoms, and (iii) neuroticism. We examined the proportion of genetic risk for MD deriving from the common factor v. specific to MD in each sample and then analyzed them jointly. Structural equation modeling was conducted in Mx.
The best fit models in all samples included additive genetic and unique environmental effects. The proportion of genetic effects unique to lifetime MD and not shared with the broad depression common factor in the three samples were estimated as 77, 61, and 65%, respectively. A cross-sample mega-analysis model fit well and estimated that 65% of the genetic risk for MD was unique.
A large proportion of genetic risk factors for lifetime MD was not, in the samples studied, captured by a common factor for broadly defined depression utilizing MD and self-report measures of current depressive symptoms and Neuroticism. The genetic substrate for MD may reflect neurobiological processes underlying the episodic nature of its cognitive, motor and neurovegetative manifestations, which are not well indexed by current depressive symptom and neuroticism.
Acne vulgaris is a skin disease with a multifactorial and complex pathology. While several twin studies have estimated that acne has a heritability of up to 80%, the genomic elements responsible for the origin and pathology of acne are still undiscovered. Here we performed a twin-based structural equation model, using available data on acne severity for an Australian sample of 4,491 twins and their siblings aged from 10 to 24. This study extends by a factor of 3 an earlier analysis of the genetic factors of acne. Acne severity was rated by nurses on a 4-point scale (1 = absent to 4 = severe) on up to three body sites (face, back, chest) and on up to three occasions (age 12, 14, and 16). The phenotype that we analyzed was the most severe rating at any site or age. The polychoric correlation for monozygotic twins was higher (rMZ = 0.86, 95% CI [0.81, 0.90]) than for dizygotic twins (rDZ = 0.42, 95% CI [0.35, 0.47]). A model that includes additive genetic effects and unique environmental effects was the most parsimonious model to explain the genetic variance of acne severity, and the estimated heritability was 0.85 (95% CI [0.82, 0.87]). We then conducted a genome-wide analysis including an additional 271 siblings — for a total of 4,762 individuals. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) scan did not detect loci associated with the severity of acne at the threshold of 5E-08 but suggestive association was found for three SNPs: rs10515088 locus 5q13.1 (p = 3.9E-07), rs12738078 locus 1p35.5 (p = 6.7E-07), and rs117943429 locus 18q21.2 (p = 9.1E-07). The 5q13.1 locus is close to PIK3R1, a gene that has a potential regulatory effect on sebocyte differentiation.
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.
Neuroticism, a ‘Big Five’ personality trait, has been associated with sub-clinical traits of both autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The objective of the current study was to examine whether causal overlap between ASD and ADHD traits can be accounted for by genetic and environmental risk factors that are shared with neuroticism. We performed twin-based structural equation modeling using self-report data from 12 items of the Neo Five-Factor Inventory Neuroticism domain, 11 Social Responsiveness Scale items, and 12 Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale items obtained from 3,170 young adult Australian individual twins (1,081 complete pairs). Univariate analysis for neuroticism, ASD, and ADHD traits suggested that the most parsimonious models were those with additive genetic and unique environmental components, without sex limitation effects. Heritability of neuroticism, ASD, and ADHD traits, as measured by these methods, was moderate (between 40% and 45% for each respective trait). In a trivariate model, we observed moderate phenotypic (between 0.45 and 0.62), genetic (between 0.56 and 0.71), and unique environmental correlations (between 0.37and 0.55) among neuroticism, ASD, and ADHD traits, with the highest value for the shared genetic influence between neuroticism and self-reported ASD traits (rg = 0.71). Together, our results suggest that in young adults, genetic, and unique environmental risk factors indexed by neuroticism overlap with those that are shared by ASD and ADHD.
We analyzed birth order differences in means and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from infancy to old age. The data were derived from the international CODATwins database. The total number of height and BMI measures from 0.5 to 79.5 years of age was 397,466. As expected, first-born twins had greater birth weight than second-born twins. With respect to height, first-born twins were slightly taller than second-born twins in childhood. After adjusting the results for birth weight, the birth order differences decreased and were no longer statistically significant. First-born twins had greater BMI than the second-born twins over childhood and adolescence. After adjusting the results for birth weight, birth order was still associated with BMI until 12 years of age. No interaction effect between birth order and zygosity was found. Only limited evidence was found that birth order influenced variances of height or BMI. The results were similar among boys and girls and also in MZ and DZ twins. Overall, the differences in height and BMI between first- and second-born twins were modest even in early childhood, while adjustment for birth weight reduced the birth order differences but did not remove them for BMI.
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.
Intelligence and personality traits are currently considered effective predictors of human behavior and job performance. However, there are few studies about their relevance in the underwater environment. Data from a sample of military personnel performing scuba diving courses were analyzed with regression techniques, testing the contribution of individual differences and ascertaining the incremental validity of the personality in an environment with extreme psychophysical demands. The results confirmed the incremental validity of personality traits (ΔR2 = .20, f2 = .25) over the predictive contribution of general mental ability (ΔR2 = .07, f2 = .08) in divers’ performance. Moreover, personality ($R_L^2$ = .34) also showed a higher validity to predict underwater adaptation than general mental ability ($R_L^2$ = .09). The ROC curve indicated 86% of the maximum possible discrimination power for the prediction of underwater adaptation, AUC = .86, p < .001, 95% CI (.82–.90). These findings confirm the shift and reversal of incremental validity of dispositional traits in the underwater environment and the relevance of personality traits as predictors of an effective response to the changing circumstances of military scuba diving. They also may improve the understanding of the behavioral effects and psychophysiological complications of diving and can also provide guidance for psychological intervention and prevention of risk in this extreme environment.
Breastfeeding has been an important survival trait during human history, though it has long been recognized that individuals differ in their exact breastfeeding behavior. Here our aims were, first, to explore to what extent genetic and environmental influences contributed to the individual differences in breastfeeding behavior; second, to detect possible genetic variants related to breastfeeding; and lastly, to test if the genetic variants associated with breastfeeding have been previously found to be related with breast size. Data were collected from a large community-based cohort of Australian twins, with 3,364 women participating in the twin modelling analyses and 1,521 of them included in the genome-wide association study (GWAS). Monozygotic (MZ) twin correlations (rMZ = 0.52, 95% CI 0.46–0.57) were larger than dizygotic (DZ) twin correlations (rDZ = 0.35, 95% CI 0.25–0.43) and the best-fitting model was the one composed by additive genetics and unique environmental factors, explaining 53% and 47% of the variance in breastfeeding behavior, respectively. No breastfeeding-related genetic variants reached genome-wide significance. The polygenic risk score analyses showed no significant results, suggesting breast size does not influence breastfeeding. This study confers a replication of a previous one exploring the sources of variance of breastfeeding and, to our knowledge, is the first one to conduct a GWAS on breastfeeding and look at the overlap with variants for breast size.
Life history theory studies the evolution of traits related to reproductive fitness. Fertility and parental investment are key life history traits which, from an evolutionary standpoint, appear strongly interrelated. The aim of this work was to analyze the genetic and environmental structure and relationship of two behaviors associated with reproductive fitness: total number of offspring and mean duration of breastfeeding. A total of 1,347 women distributed in 239 monozygotic pairs, 236 dizygotic pairs, and 393 individual twins from opposite sex pairs provided information about their reproductive history. We conducted separate univariate analyses to study the sources of variance of both variables; and a bivariate analysis, with threshold liability models. The sources of variance for number of children and breastfeeding were best explained by a model including familial and unique environmental factors, being E = 0.54 (CI 95%: 0.44, 0.66) and E = 0.46 (CI 95%: 0.34, 0.61), respectively. The phenotypic correlation between number of children and breastfeeding was low but significant (r = 0.16, CI 95%: 0.07, 0.25). Familial correlation between these variables did not reach significance, but unique environmental correlation did (re = 0.20, CI 95%: 0.02, 0.37). In conclusion, results do not support the existence of a clear common structure for the number of children a woman has and the time she spends breastfeeding them, at least in modern societies. The relationship found was mainly due to unique environmental factors. More research on these and related phenotypes is needed to better understand women's reproductive decisions and how natural selection acts on the life history traits.
Breastfeeding is considered the best and most natural way of feeding infants during the first months of life. Breastfeeding has multiple short- and long-term benefits for the health of the mother and babies, and from an evolutionist standpoint, it would be a behavior worth preserving throughout time. The aim of the present study was to explore the relative influence of genetic and environmental factors in this behavior. Three hundred and ninety pairs of adult female twins provided information about whether they breastfed their children and for how long. Three variables were analyzed: initiation and duration for the first baby, and mean duration for the complete offspring. Polychoric correlations were consistently higher for monozygotic twins, supporting a role for genetic factors (0.49 vs. 0.22 for initiation; 0.44 vs. 0.22 for duration in the first newborn; and 0.52 vs. 0.31 for duration on average). Model-fitting analyses found that in the best-fitting model, variance was explained by additive genetic and non-shared environmental factors, with estimated heritabilities ranging from 0.39 to 0.52 in the measures studied. The rest of the variance would be due to unique environmental factors. We conclude that genetic factors have a significant impact on the complex behavior of breastfeeding.