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The recruitment of participants for research studies may be subject to bias. The Prospective Imaging Study of Ageing (PISA) aims to characterize the phenotype and natural history of healthy adult Australians at high future risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Participants approached to take part in PISA were selected from existing cohort studies with available genomewide genetic data for both successfully and unsuccessfully recruited participants, allowing us to investigate the genetic contribution to voluntary recruitment, including the genetic predisposition to AD. We use a polygenic risk score (PRS) approach to test to what extent the genetic risk for AD, and related risk factors predict participation in PISA. We did not identify a significant association of genetic risk for AD with study participation, but we did identify significant associations with PRS for key causal risk factors for AD, IQ, household income and years of education. We also found that older and female participants were more likely to take part in the study. Our findings highlight the importance of considering bias in key risk factors for AD in the recruitment of individuals for cohort studies.
Many studies aggregate prescription opioid misuse (POM) and heroin use into a single phenotype, but emerging evidence suggests that their genetic and environmental influences may be partially distinct.
In total, 7164 individual twins (84.12% complete pairs; 59.81% female; mean age = 30.58 years) from the Australian Twin Registry reported their lifetime misuse of prescription opioids, stimulants, and sedatives, and lifetime use of heroin, cannabis, cocaine/crack, illicit stimulants, hallucinogens, inhalants, solvents, and dissociatives via telephone interview. Independent pathway models (IPMs) and common pathway models (CPMs) partitioned the variance of drug use phenotypes into general and drug-specific genetic (a), common environmental (c), and unique environmental factors (e).
An IPM with one general a and one general e factor and a one-factor CPM provided comparable fit to the data. General factors accounted for 55% (a = 14%, e = 41%) and 79% (a = 64%, e = 15%) of the respective variation in POM and heroin use in the IPM, and 25% (a = 12%, c = 8%, e = 5%) and 80% (a = 38%, c = 27%, e = 15%) of the respective variation in POM and heroin use in the CPM. Across both models, POM emerged with substantial drug-specific genetic influence (26–39% of total phenotypic variance; 69–74% of genetic variance); heroin use did not (0% of total phenotypic variance; 0% of genetic variance in both models). Prescription sedative misuse also demonstrated significant drug-specific genetic variance.
Genetic variation in POM, but not heroin use, is predominantly drug-specific. Misuse of prescription medications that reduce experiences of subjective distress may be partially influenced by sources of genetic variation separate from illicit drug use.
Current psychiatric diagnoses, although heritable, have not been clearly mapped onto distinct underlying pathogenic processes. The same symptoms often occur in multiple disorders, and a substantial proportion of both genetic and environmental risk factors are shared across disorders. However, the relationship between shared symptoms and shared genetic liability is still poorly understood.
Well-characterised, cross-disorder samples are needed to investigate this matter, but few currently exist. Our aim is to develop procedures to purposely curate and aggregate genotypic and phenotypic data in psychiatric research.
As part of the Cardiff MRC Mental Health Data Pathfinder initiative, we have curated and harmonised phenotypic and genetic information from 15 studies to create a new data repository, DRAGON-Data. To date, DRAGON-Data includes over 45 000 individuals: adults and children with neurodevelopmental or psychiatric diagnoses, affected probands within collected families and individuals who carry a known neurodevelopmental risk copy number variant.
We have processed the available phenotype information to derive core variables that can be reliably analysed across groups. In addition, all data-sets with genotype information have undergone rigorous quality control, imputation, copy number variant calling and polygenic score generation.
DRAGON-Data combines genetic and non-genetic information, and is available as a resource for research across traditional psychiatric diagnostic categories. Algorithms and pipelines used for data harmonisation are currently publicly available for the scientific community, and an appropriate data-sharing protocol will be developed as part of ongoing projects (DATAMIND) in partnership with Health Data Research UK.
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.
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).
Subthreshold/attenuated syndromes are established precursors of full-threshold mood and psychotic disorders. Less is known about the individual symptoms that may precede the development of subthreshold syndromes and associated social/functional outcomes among emerging adults.
We modeled two dynamic Bayesian networks (DBN) to investigate associations among self-rated phenomenology and personal/lifestyle factors (role impairment, low social support, and alcohol and substance use) across the 19Up and 25Up waves of the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study. We examined whether symptoms and personal/lifestyle factors at 19Up were associated with (a) themselves or different items at 25Up, and (b) onset of a depression-like, hypo-manic-like, or psychotic-like subthreshold syndrome (STS) at 25Up.
The first DBN identified 11 items that when endorsed at 19Up were more likely to be reendorsed at 25Up (e.g., hypersomnia, impaired concentration, impaired sleep quality) and seven items that when endorsed at 19Up were associated with different items being endorsed at 25Up (e.g., earlier fatigue and later role impairment; earlier anergia and later somatic pain). In the second DBN, no arcs met our a priori threshold for inclusion. In an exploratory model with no threshold, >20 items at 19Up were associated with progression to an STS at 25Up (with lower statistical confidence); the top five arcs were: feeling threatened by others and a later psychotic-like STS; increased activity and a later hypo-manic-like STS; and anergia, impaired sleep quality, and/or hypersomnia and a later depression-like STS.
These probabilistic models identify symptoms and personal/lifestyle factors that might prove useful targets for indicated preventative strategies.
It is widely recognized that dizygotic twinning (DZT) runs in families, but estimates of heritability from twin and family data are remarkably scarce and vary considerably. Here, we traced seven large, sometimes historical, multigeneration pedigrees from West Africans, fin de siècle French Jews, Canadians (two pedigrees), and the French royal family, in which twin births were recorded. We estimated heritability of twinning (of all types) as zygosity information was not available, diluting the true DZT heritability by a third or so. The estimates in the range 8−20% are remarkably consistent across time (8−19 generations) and ethnicities and also consistent with twin and family estimates.
Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a psychiatric disorder with complex etiology, with a significant portion of disease risk imparted by genetics. Traditional genome-wide association studies (GWAS) produce principal evidence for the association of genetic variants with disease. Transcriptomic imputation (TI) allows for the translation of those variants into regulatory mechanisms, which can then be used to assess the functional outcome of genetically regulated gene expression (GReX) in a broader setting through the use of phenome-wide association studies (pheWASs) in large and diverse clinical biobank populations with electronic health record phenotypes.
Here, we applied TI using S-PrediXcan to translate the most recent PGC-ED AN GWAS findings into AN-GReX. For significant genes, we imputed AN-GReX in the Mount Sinai BioMe™ Biobank and performed pheWASs on over 2000 outcomes to test the clinical consequences of aberrant expression of these genes. We performed a secondary analysis to assess the impact of body mass index (BMI) and sex on AN-GReX clinical associations.
Our S-PrediXcan analysis identified 53 genes associated with AN, including what is, to our knowledge, the first-genetic association of AN with the major histocompatibility complex. AN-GReX was associated with autoimmune, metabolic, and gastrointestinal diagnoses in our biobank cohort, as well as measures of cholesterol, medications, substance use, and pain. Additionally, our analyses showed moderation of AN-GReX associations with measures of cholesterol and substance use by BMI, and moderation of AN-GReX associations with celiac disease by sex.
Our BMI-stratified results provide potential avenues of functional mechanism for AN-genes to investigate further.
Previous research has shown that self-reports of the amount of social support are heritable. Using the Kessler perceived social support (KPSS) measure, we explored sex differences in the genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences. We did this separately for subscales that captured the perceived support from different members of the network (spouse, twin, children, parents, relatives, friends and confidant). Our sample comprised 7059 male, female and opposite-sex twin pairs aged 18−95 years from the Australian Twin Registry. We found tentative support for different genetic mechanisms in males and females for support from friends and the average KPSS score of all subscales, but otherwise, there are no sex differences. For each subscale alone, the additive genetic (A) and unique environment (E) effects were significant. By contrast, the covariation among the subscales was explained — in roughly equal parts — by A, E and the common environment, with effects of different support constellations plausibly accounting for the latter. A single genetic and common environment factor accounted for between half and three-quarters of the variance across the subscales in both males and females, suggesting little heterogeneity in the genetic and environmental etiology of the different support sources.
Studying phenotypic and genetic characteristics of age at onset (AAO) and polarity at onset (PAO) in bipolar disorder can provide new insights into disease pathology and facilitate the development of screening tools.
To examine the genetic architecture of AAO and PAO and their association with bipolar disorder disease characteristics.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) and polygenic score (PGS) analyses of AAO (n = 12 977) and PAO (n = 6773) were conducted in patients with bipolar disorder from 34 cohorts and a replication sample (n = 2237). The association of onset with disease characteristics was investigated in two of these cohorts.
Earlier AAO was associated with a higher probability of psychotic symptoms, suicidality, lower educational attainment, not living together and fewer episodes. Depressive onset correlated with suicidality and manic onset correlated with delusions and manic episodes. Systematic differences in AAO between cohorts and continents of origin were observed. This was also reflected in single-nucleotide variant-based heritability estimates, with higher heritabilities for stricter onset definitions. Increased PGS for autism spectrum disorder (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), major depression (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), schizophrenia (β = −0.39 years, s.e. = 0.08), and educational attainment (β = −0.31 years, s.e. = 0.08) were associated with an earlier AAO. The AAO GWAS identified one significant locus, but this finding did not replicate. Neither GWAS nor PGS analyses yielded significant associations with PAO.
AAO and PAO are associated with indicators of bipolar disorder severity. Individuals with an earlier onset show an increased polygenic liability for a broad spectrum of psychiatric traits. Systematic differences in AAO across cohorts, continents and phenotype definitions introduce significant heterogeneity, affecting analyses.
Pneumonia is a respiratory condition with complex etiology. Host genetic variation is thought to contribute to individual differences in susceptibility and symptom manifestation. Here, we analyze pneumonia data from the UK Biobank (14,780 cases and 439,096 controls) and FinnGen (9980 cases and 86,519 controls) and perform a genomewide association study meta-analysis. We use gene-based tests, colocalization, genetic correlation, latent causal variable (LCV) and polygenic prediction in an independent Australian sample (N = 5595) to draw insights into the etiology of pneumonia risk. We identify two independent loci on chromosome 15 (lead single-nucleotide polymorphisms rs2009746 and rs76474922) to be associated with pneumonia (p < 5e−8). Gene-based tests revealed 18 genes in chromosomes 15, 16 and 9, including IL127, PBX3, ApoB receptor (APOBR) and smoking related genes CHRNA3/5, statistically associated with pneumonia. We observed genetic correlations between pneumonia and cardiorespiratory, psychiatric and inflammatory related traits. LCV analysis suggests a strong genetic causal relationship with cardiovascular health phenotypes. Polygenic risk scores for pneumonia significantly predicted self-reported pneumonia in an independent sample, albeit with a small effect size (OR = 1.11 95% CI [1.04, 1.19], p < .05). Sensitivity analyses suggested the associations in chromosome 15 are mediated by smoking history, but the associations in chromosomes 16 and 9, and polygenic prediction were robust to adjustment for smoking. Altogether, our results highlight common genetic variants, genes and potential pathways that contribute to individual differences in susceptibility to pneumonia, and advance our understanding of the genetic factors underlying heterogeneity in respiratory medical outcomes.
Strong associations between neural tube defects (NTDs) and monozygotic (MZ) twinning have long been noted, and it has been suggested that NTD cases who do not present as MZ twins may be the survivors of MZ twinning events. We have recently shown that MZ twins carry a strong, distinctive DNA methylation signature and have developed an algorithm based on genomewide DNA methylation array data that distinguishes MZ twins from dizygotic twins and other relatives at well above chance level. We have applied this algorithm to published methylation data from five fetal tissues (placental chorionic villi, kidney, spinal cord, brain and muscle) collected from spina bifida cases (n = 22), anencephalic cases (n = 15) and controls (n = 19). We see no difference in signature between cases and controls, providing no support for a common etiological role of MZ twinning in NTDs. The strong associations therefore continue to await elucidation.
The first demonstration of laser action in ruby was made in 1960 by T. H. Maiman of Hughes Research Laboratories, USA. Many laboratories worldwide began the search for lasers using different materials, operating at different wavelengths. In the UK, academia, industry and the central laboratories took up the challenge from the earliest days to develop these systems for a broad range of applications. This historical review looks at the contribution the UK has made to the advancement of the technology, the development of systems and components and their exploitation over the last 60 years.
Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) occurs in carriers of fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) X-linked small CGG expansion (gray zone [GZ] and premutation [PM]) alleles, containing 41–200 repeats. Major features comprise kinetic tremor, gait ataxia, cognitive decline and cerebellar peduncular white matter lesions, but atypical/incomplete FXTAS may occur. We explored the possibility of polygenic effects modifying the FXTAS spectrum phenotypes. We used three motor scales and selected cognitive tests in a series of three males and three females from a single sibship carrying PM or GZ alleles (44 to 75 repeats). The molecular profiles from these siblings were determined by genomewide association study with single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping by Illumina Global Screening Array. Nonparametric linkage analysis was applied and Parkinson’s disease (PD) polygenic risk scores (PRSs) were calculated for all the siblings, based on 107 known risk variants. All male and female siblings manifested similar kinetic tremor phenotypes. In contrast to FXTAS, they showed negligible gait ataxia, and few white matter lesions on MRI. Cognitive functioning was unaffected. Suggestive evidence of linkage to a broad region of the short arm of chromosome 10 was obtained, and median PD PRS for the sibship fell within the top 30% of a sample of over 500,000 UK and Australian controls. The genomewide study results are suggestive of modifying effects of genetic risk loci linked to PD, on the neurological phenotype of FMR1-CGG small expansion carriers, resulting in an oligosymptomatic kinetic tremor seen in FXTAS spectrum, but also consistent with essential tremor.
A paleontological deposit near San Clemente de Térapa represents one of the very few Rancholabrean North American Land Mammal Age sites within Sonora, Mexico. During that time, grasslands were common, and the climate included cooler and drier summers and wetter winters than currently experienced in northern Mexico. Here, we demonstrate restructuring in the mammalian community associated with environmental change over the past 40,000 years at Térapa. The fossil community has a similar number of carnivores and herbivores whereas the modern community consists mostly of carnivores. There was also a 97% decrease in mean body size (from 289 kg to 9 kg) because of the loss of megafauna. We further provide an updated review of ungulates and carnivores, recognizing two distinct morphotypes of Equus, including E. scotti and a slighter species; as well as Platygonus compressus; Camelops hesternus; Canis dirus; and Lynx rufus; and the first regional records of Palaeolama mirifica, Procyon lotor, and Smilodon cf. S. fatalis. The Térapa mammals presented here provide a more comprehensive understanding of the faunal community restructuring that occurred in northern Mexico from the late Pleistocene to present day, indicating further potential biodiversity loss with continued warming and drying of the region.
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.
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.
Drug classes are grouped based on their chemical and pharmacological properties, but prescription and illicit drugs differ in other important ways. Potential differences in genetic and environmental influences on the (mis)use of prescription and illicit drugs that are subsumed under the same class should be examined. Opioid and stimulant classes contain prescription and illicit forms differentially associated with salient risk factors (common route of administration, legality), making them useful comparators for addressing this etiological issue.
A total of 2410 individual Australian twins [Mage = 31.77 (s.d. = 2.48); 67% women] were interviewed about prescription misuse and illicit use of opioids and stimulants. Univariate and bivariate biometric models partitioned variances and covariances into additive genetic, shared environmental, and unique environmental influences across drug types.
Variation in the propensity to misuse prescription opioids was attributable to genes (41%) and unique environment (59%). Illicit opioid use was attributable to shared (71%) and unique (29%) environment. Prescription stimulant misuse was attributable to genes (79%) and unique environment (21%). Illicit stimulant use was attributable to genes (48%), shared environment (29%), and unique environment (23%). There was evidence for genetic influence common to both stimulant types, but limited evidence for genetic influence common to both opioid types. Bivariate correlations suggested that prescription opioid use may be more genetically similar to prescription stimulant use than to illicit opioid use.
Prescription opioid misuse may share little genetic influence with illicit opioid use. Future research may consider avoiding unitary drug classifications, particularly when examining genetic influences.