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In this prospective study of mental health, we examine the influence of three interrelated traits — perceived stress, rumination, and daytime sleepiness — and their association with symptoms of anxiety and depression in early adolescence. Given the known associations between these traits, an important objective is to determine the extent to which they may independently predict anxiety/depression symptoms. Twin pairs from the Queensland Twin Adolescent Brain (QTAB) project were assessed on two occasions (N = 211 pairs aged 9−14 years at baseline and 152 pairs aged 10−16 years at follow-up). Linear regression models and quantitative genetic modeling were used to analyze the data. Prospectively, perceived stress, rumination, and daytime sleepiness accounted for 8−11% of the variation in later anxiety/depression; familial influences contributed strongly to these associations. However, only perceived stress significantly predicted change in anxiety/depression, accounting for 3% of variance at follow-up after adjusting for anxiety/depression at baseline, although it did not do so independently of rumination and daytime sleepiness. Bidirectional effects were found between all traits over time. These findings suggest an underlying architecture that is shared, to some degree, by all traits, while the literature points to hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and/or circadian systems as potential sources of overlapping influence and possible avenues for intervention.
The hippocampus is a complex brain structure with key roles in cognitive and emotional processing and with subregion abnormalities associated with a range of disorders and psychopathologies. Here we combine data from two large independent young adult twin/sibling cohorts to obtain the most accurate estimates to date of genetic covariation between hippocampal subfield volumes and the hippocampus as a single volume. The combined sample included 2148 individuals, comprising 1073 individuals from 627 families (mean age = 22.3 years) from the Queensland Twin IMaging (QTIM) Study, and 1075 individuals from 454 families (mean age = 28.8 years) from the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Hippocampal subfields were segmented using FreeSurfer version 6.0 (CA4 and dentate gyrus were phenotypically and genetically indistinguishable and were summed to a single volume). Multivariate twin modeling was conducted in OpenMx to decompose variance into genetic and environmental sources. Bivariate analyses of hippocampal formation and each subfield volume showed that 10%–72% of subfield genetic variance was independent of the hippocampal formation, with greatest specificity found for the smaller volumes; for example, CA2/3 with 42% of genetic variance being independent of the hippocampus; fissure (63%); fimbria (72%); hippocampus-amygdala transition area (41%); parasubiculum (62%). In terms of genetic influence, whole hippocampal volume is a good proxy for the largest hippocampal subfields, but a poor substitute for the smaller subfields. Additive genetic sources accounted for 49%–77% of total variance for each of the subfields in the combined sample multivariate analysis. In addition, the multivariate analyses were sufficiently powered to identify common environmental influences (replicated in QTIM and HCP for the molecular layer and CA4/dentate gyrus, and accounting for 7%–16% of total variance for 8 of 10 subfields in the combined sample). This provides the clearest indication yet from a twin study that factors such as home environment may influence hippocampal volumes (albeit, with caveats).
Transcriptional changes involved in neuronal recovery after sports-related concussion (SRC) may be obscured by inter-individual variation in mRNA expression and nonspecific changes related to physical exertion. Using a co-twin study, the objective of this study was to identify important differences in mRNA expression among a single pair of monozygotic (MZ) twins discordant for concussion. A pair of MZ twins were enrolled as part of a larger study of concussion biomarkers among collegiate athletes. During the study, Twin A sustained SRC, allowing comparison of mRNA expression to the nonconcussed Twin B. Twin A clinically recovered by Day 7. mRNA expression was measured pre-injury and at 6 h and 7 days postinjury using Affymetrix HG-U133 Plus 2.0 microarray. Changes in mRNA expression from pre-injury to each postinjury time point were compared between the twins; differences >1.5-fold were considered important. Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes identified biologic networks associated with important transcripts. Among 38,000 analyzed genes, important changes were identified in 153 genes. The ErbB (epidermal growth factor receptor) signaling pathway was identified as the top transcriptional network from pre-injury to 7 days postinjury. Genes in this pathway with important transcriptional changes included epidermal growth factor (2.41), epiregulin (1.73), neuregulin 1 (1.54) and mechanistic target of rapamycin (1.51). In conclusion, the ErbB signaling pathway was identified as a potential regulator of clinical recovery in a MZ twin pair discordant for SRC. A co-twin study design may be a useful method for identifying important gene pathways associated with concussion recovery.
The ‘16Up’ study conducted at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute from January 2014 to December 2018 aimed to examine the physical and mental health of young Australian twins aged 16−18 years (N = 876; 371 twin pairs and 18 triplet sets). Measurements included online questionnaires covering physical and mental health as well as information and communication technology (ICT) use, actigraphy, sleep diaries and hair samples to determine cortisol concentrations. Study participants generally rated themselves as being in good physical (79%) and mental (73%) health and reported lower rates of psychological distress and exposure to alcohol, tobacco products or other substances than previously reported for this age group in the Australian population. Daily or near-daily online activity was almost universal among study participants, with no differences noted between males and females in terms of frequency or duration of internet access. Patterns of ICT use in this sample indicated that the respondents were more likely to use online information sources for researching physical health issues than for mental health or substance use issues, and that they generally reported partial levels of satisfaction with the mental health information they found online. This suggests that internet-based mental health resources can be readily accessed by adolescent Australians, and their computer literacy augurs well for future access to online health resources. In combination with other data collected as part of the ongoing Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study, the 16Up project provides a valuable resource for the longitudinal investigation of genetic and environmental contributions to phenotypic variation in a variety of human traits.
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.
Research on environmental and genetic pathways to complex traits such as educational attainment (EA) is confounded by uncertainty over whether correlations reflect effects of transmitted parental genes, causal family environments, or some, possibly interactive, mixture of both. Thus, an aggregate of thousands of alleles associated with EA (a polygenic risk score; PRS) may tap parental behaviors and home environments promoting EA in the offspring. New methods for unpicking and determining these causal pathways are required. Here, we utilize the fact that parents pass, at random, 50% of their genome to a given offspring to create independent scores for the transmitted alleles (conventional EA PRS) and a parental score based on alleles not transmitted to the offspring (EA VP_PRS). The formal effect of non-transmitted alleles on offspring attainment was tested in 2,333 genotyped twins for whom high-quality measures of EA, assessed at age 17 years, were available, and whose parents were also genotyped. Four key findings were observed. First, the EA PRS and EA VP_PRS were empirically independent, validating the virtual-parent design. Second, in this family-based design, children's own EA PRS significantly predicted their EA (β = 0.15), ruling out stratification confounds as a cause of the association of attainment with the EA PRS. Third, parental EA PRS predicted the SES environment parents provided to offspring (β = 0.20), and parental SES and offspring EA were significantly associated (β = 0.33). This would suggest that the EA PRS is at least as strongly linked to social competence as it is to EA, leading to higher attained SES in parents and, therefore, a higher experienced SES for children. In a full structural equation model taking account of family genetic relatedness across multiple siblings the non-transmitted allele effects were estimated at similar values; but, in this more complex model, confidence intervals included zero. A test using the forthcoming EA3 PRS may clarify this outcome. The virtual-parent method may be applied to clarify causality in other phenotypes where observational evidence suggests parenting may moderate expression of other outcomes, for instance in psychiatry.
Training for the clinical research workforce does not sufficiently prepare workers for today’s scientific complexity; deficiencies may be ameliorated with training. The Enhancing Clinical Research Professionals’ Training and Qualifications developed competency standards for principal investigators and clinical research coordinators.
Clinical and Translational Science Awards representatives refined competency statements. Working groups developed assessments, identified training, and highlighted gaps.
Forty-eight competency statements in 8 domains were developed.
Training is primarily investigator focused with few programs for clinical research coordinators. Lack of training is felt in new technologies and data management. There are no standardized assessments of competence.
The translation of discoveries to drugs, devices, and behavioral interventions requires well-prepared study teams. Execution of clinical trials remains suboptimal due to varied quality in design, execution, analysis, and reporting. A critical impediment is inconsistent, or even absent, competency-based training for clinical trial personnel.
In 2014, the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) funded the project, Enhancing Clinical Research Professionals’ Training and Qualifications (ECRPTQ), aimed at addressing this deficit. The goal was to ensure all personnel are competent to execute clinical trials. A phased structure was utilized.
This paper focuses on training recommendations in Good Clinical Practice (GCP). Leveraging input from all Clinical and Translational Science Award hubs, the following was recommended to NCATS: all investigators and study coordinators executing a clinical trial should understand GCP principles and undergo training every 3 years, with the training method meeting the minimum criteria identified by the International Conference on Harmonisation GCP.
We anticipate that industry sponsors will acknowledge such training, eliminating redundant training requests. We proposed metrics to be tracked that required further study. A separate task force was composed to define recommendations for metrics to be reported to NCATS.
Measuring cortisol in hair is a promising method to assess long-term alterations of the biological stress response system, and hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) may be altered in psychiatric disorders and in subjects suffering from chronic stress. However, the pattern of associations between HCC, chronic stress and mental health require clarification. Our exploratory study: (1) assessed the association between HCC and perceived stress, symptoms of depression and neuroticism, and the trait extraversion (as a control variable); and (2) made use of the twin design to estimate the genetic and environmental covariance between the variables of interest. Hair samples from 109 (74 female) subjects (age range 12–21 years, mean 15.1) including 8 monozygotic (MZ) and 21 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs were analyzed. Perceived stress was measured with the Perceived Stress Scale and/or the Daily Life and Stressors Scale, neuroticism, and extraversion with the NEO-Five Factor Inventory or the Junior Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, and depressive symptoms with the Somatic and Psychological Health Report. We found a modest positive association between HCC and the three risk factors — perceived stress, symptoms of depression, and neuroticism (r = 0.22–0.33) — but no correlation with extraversion (-0.06). A median split revealed that the associations between HCC and risk factors were stronger (0.47–0.60) in those subjects with HCC >11.36 pg/mg. Furthermore, our results suggest that the genetic effects underlying HCC are largely shared with those that influence perceived stress, depressive symptoms, and neuroticism. These results of our proof of principle study warrant replication in a bigger sample but raise the interesting question of the direction of causation between these variables.
The perception of sweetness varies among individuals but the sources of this variation are not fully understood. Here, in a sample of 1,901 adolescent and young adults (53.8% female; 243 MZ and 452 DZ twin pairs, 511 unpaired individuals; mean age 16.2 ± 2.8, range 12–26 years), we studied the variation in the perception of sweetness intensity of two monosaccharides and two high-potency sweeteners: glucose, fructose, neohesperidine dihydrochalcone (NHDC), and aspartame. Perceived intensity for all sweeteners decreased with age (2–5% per year) and increased with the history of otitis media (6–9%). Males rated aspartame slightly stronger than females (7%). We found similar heritabilities for sugars (glucose: h2 = 0.31, fructose: h2 = 0.34) and high-potency sweeteners (NHDC: h2 = 0.31, aspartame: h2 = 0.30); all were in the modest range. Multivariate modeling showed that a common genetic factor accounted for >75% of the genetic variance in the four sweeteners, suggesting that individual differences in perceived sweet intensity, which are partly due to genetic factors, may be attributed to a single set of genes. This study provided evidence of the shared genetic pathways between the perception of sugars and high-potency sweeteners.
We tested a hypothesis that there is no genetic correlation between general factors of intelligence and personality, despite both having been selected for in human evolution. This was done using twin samples from Australia, the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Croatia, comprising altogether 1,748 monozygotic and 1,329 same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. Although parameters in the model-fitting differed among the twin samples, the genetic correlation between the two general factors could be set to zero, with a better fit if the U.S. sample was excepted.
Shorter telomere length (TL) has found to be associated with lower birth weight and with lower cognitive ability and psychiatric disorders. However, the direction of causation of these associations and the extent to which they are genetically or environmentally mediated are unclear. Within-pair comparisons of monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins can throw light on these questions. We investigated correlations of within pair differences in telomere length, IQ, and anxiety/depression in an initial sample from Brisbane (242 MZ pairs, 245 DZ same sex (DZSS) pairs) and in replication samples from Amsterdam (514 MZ pairs, 233 DZSS pairs) and Melbourne (19 pairs selected for extreme high or low birth weight difference). Intra-pair differences of birth weight and telomere length were significantly correlated in MZ twins, but not in DZSS twins. Greater intra-pair differences of telomere length were observed in the 10% of MZ twins with the greatest difference in birth weight compared to the bottom 90% in both samples and also in the Melbourne sample. Intra-pair differences of telomere length and IQ, but not of TL and anxiety/depression, were correlated in MZ twins, and to a smaller extent in DZSS twins. Our findings suggest that the same prenatal effects that reduce birth weight also influence telomere length in MZ twins. The association between telomere length and IQ is partly driven by the same prenatal effects that decrease birth weight.
To assess how breast-feeding and dietary diversity relate to infant length-for-age Z-score (LAZ) and weight-for-age Z-score (WAZ).
Breast-feeding, dietary and anthropometric data from the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey were analysed using sex-stratified fixed-effects longitudinal regression models. A dietary diversity score (DDS) based on seven food groups was classified as low (<4) or high (≥4). The complementary feeding patterns were: (i) non-breast-fed with low DDS (referent); (ii) breast-fed with low DDS; (iii) non-breast-fed with high DDS; and (iv) breast-fed with high DDS (optimal). Interactions between age, energy intake and complementary feeding patterns were included.
Infants (n 2822) measured bimonthly from 6 to 24 months.
Breast-feeding (regardless of DDS) was significantly associated with higher LAZ (until 24 months) and WAZ (until 20 months). For example, at 6 months, breast-fed boys with low DDS were 0·246 (95 % CI 0·191, 0·302) sd longer and 0·523 (95 % CI 0·451, 0·594) sd heavier than the referent group. There was no significant difference in size between breast-fed infants with high v. low DDS. Similarly, high DDS conferred no advantage in LAZ or WAZ among non-breast-fed infants. There were modest correlations between the 7-point DDS and nutrient intakes but these correlations were substantially attenuated after energy adjustment. We elucidated several interactions between sex, age, energy intake and complementary feeding patterns.
These results demonstrate the importance of prolonged breast-feeding up to 24 months. The DDS provided qualitative information on infant diets but did not confer a significant advantage in LAZ or WAZ.
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.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) offer the benefit of a hypothesis-free approach to measuring the quantitative effect of genetic variants on affection status. Generally the findings of GWAS relying on ADHD status have been non-significant, but the one study using quantitative measures of symptoms found SLC9A9 and SLC6A1 were associated with inattention and hyperactivity–impulsivity. Accordingly, we performed a GWAS using quantitative measures of each ADHD subtype measured with the Strengths and Weaknesses of ADHD and Normal Behaviour (SWAN) scale in two community-based samples. This scale captures the full range of attention and kinetic behavior; from high levels of attention and appropriate activity to the inattention and hyperactivity–impulsivity associated with ADHD within two community-based samples. Our discovery sample comprised 1,851 participants (mean age = 22.8 years [4.8]; 50.6% female), while our replication sample comprised 155 participants (mean age = 26.3 years [3.1]; 68.4% females). Age, sex, age × sex, and age2 were included as covariates and the results from each sample were combined using meta-analysis, then analyzed with a gene-based test to estimate the combined effect of markers within genes. We compare our results with markers that have previously been found to have a strong association with ADHD symptoms. Neither the GWAS nor subsequent meta-analyses yielded genome-wide significant results; the strongest effect was observed at rs2110267 (4.62 × 10−7) for symptoms of hyperactivity–impulsivity. The strongest effect in the gene-based test was for GPR139 on symptoms of inattention (6.40 × 10−5). Replication of this study with larger samples will add to our understanding of the genetic etiology of ADHD.
The development of late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD) is under strong genetic control and there is great interest in the genetic variants that confer increased risk. The Alzheimer's disease risk gene, growth factor receptor bound protein 2-associated protein (GAB2), has been shown to provide a 1.27–1.51 increased odds of developing LOAD for rs7101429 major allele carriers, in case-control analysis. GAB2 is expressed across the brain throughout life, and its role in LOAD pathology is well understood. Recent studies have begun to examine the effect of genetic variation in the GAB2 gene on differences in the brain. However, the effect of GAB2 on the young adult brain has yet to be considered. Here we found a significant association between the GAB2 gene and morphological brain differences in 755 young adult twins (469 females) (M = 23.1, SD = 3.1 years), using a gene-based test with principal components regression (PCReg). Detectable differences in brain morphology are therefore associated with variation in the GAB2 gene, even in young adults, long before the typical age of onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Because brain structure and function are affected in neurological and psychiatric disorders, it is important to disentangle the sources of variation in these phenotypes. Over the past 15 years, twin studies have found evidence for both genetic and environmental influences on neuroimaging phenotypes, but considerable variation across studies makes it difficult to draw clear conclusions about the relative magnitude of these influences. Here we performed the first meta-analysis of structural MRI data from 48 studies on >1,250 twin pairs, and diffusion tensor imaging data from 10 studies on 444 twin pairs. The proportion of total variance accounted for by genes (A), shared environment (C), and unshared environment (E), was calculated by averaging A, C, and E estimates across studies from independent twin cohorts and weighting by sample size. The results indicated that additive genetic estimates were significantly different from zero for all meta-analyzed phenotypes, with the exception of fractional anisotropy (FA) of the callosal splenium, and cortical thickness (CT) of the uncus, left parahippocampal gyrus, and insula. For many phenotypes there was also a significant influence of C. We now have good estimates of heritability for many regional and lobar CT measures, in addition to the global volumes. Confidence intervals are wide and number of individuals small for many of the other phenotypes. In conclusion, while our meta-analysis shows that imaging measures are strongly influenced by genes, and that novel phenotypes such as CT measures, FA measures, and brain activation measures look especially promising, replication across independent samples and demographic groups is necessary.
There has been almost no overlap between behavior genetics and consumer behavior research, despite each field's importance in understanding society. In particular, both have neglected to study genetic influences on consumer adoption and usage of new technologies — even technologies as important as the mobile phone, now used by 5.8 out of 7.0 billion people on earth. To start filling this gap, we analyzed self-reported mobile phone use, intelligence, and personality traits in two samples of Australian teenaged twins (mean ages 14.2 and 15.6 years), totaling 1,036 individuals. ACE modeling using Mx software showed substantial heritabilities for how often teens make voice calls (.60 and .34 in samples 1 and 2, respectively) and for how often they send text messages (.53 and. 50). Shared family environment – including neighborhood, social class, parental education, and parental income (i.e., the generosity of calling plans that parents can afford for their teens) — had much weaker effects. Multivariate modeling based on cross-twin, cross-trait correlations showed negative genetic correlations between talking/texting frequency and intelligence (around –.17), and positive genetic correlations between talking/texting frequency and extraversion (about .20 to .40). Our results have implications for assessing the risks of mobile phone use such as radiofrequency field (RF) exposure and driving accidents, for studying adoption and use of other emerging technologies, for understanding the genetic architecture of the cognitive and personality traits that predict consumer behavior, and for challenging the common assumption that consumer behavior is shaped entirely by culture, media, and family environment.
We assessed the heritability of head circumference, an approximation of brain size, in twin-sib families of different ages. Data from the youngest participants were collected a few weeks after birth and from the oldest participants around age 50 years. In nearly all age groups the largest part of the variation in head circumference was explained by genetic differences. Heritability estimates were 90% in young infants (4 to 5 months), 85–88% in early childhood, 83–87% in adolescence, 75% in young and mid adulthood. In infants younger than 3 months, heritability was very low or absent. Quantitative sex differences in heritability were observed in 15- and 18-year-olds, but there was no evidence for qualitative sex differences, that is, the same genes were expressed in both males and females. Longitudinal analysis of the data between 5, 7, and 18 years of age showed high genetic stability (.78 > RG > .98). These results indicate that head circumference is a highly heritable biometric trait and a valid target for future GWA studies.
The Older Australian Twins Study (OATS) was recently initiated to investigate genetic and environmental factors and their associations and interactions in healthy brain ageing and ageing-related neurocognitive disorders. The study extends the classic MZ-DZ design to include one or two equivalently aged siblings for each twin pair and utilizes the rich resources of the Australian Twin Registry. The study has a number of distinguishing features including comprehensive psychiatric, neuropsychological, cardiovascular, metabolic, and neuroimaging assessments, a longitudinal design and links with a brain donor program. The study measures many behavioral and environmental factors, but in particular lifetime physical and mental activity, physical and psychological trauma, loss of parent early in life, later losses and life events, early-life socioeconomic environment, alcohol and drug use, occupational exposure, and nutrition. It also includes comprehensive cardiovascular assessment, blood biochemistry, genetics and proteomics. The socio-demographic and health data on the first 172 pairs of twins participating in this study are presented. Prevalence of mild cognitive impairment is 12.8% and of dementia 1.5% in the sample. The target sample size is 1000, with at least 400 pairs of twins aged 65–90 years. The cohort will be assessed every two years, with in-depth assessments being repeated. OATS offers an excellent opportunity for collaboration with other similar studies as well as researchers who share the same interests.