Kinships composed of twin parents, their spouses and children, offer a robust and flexible sampling design for research in genetic epidemiology. Families-of-twins designs circumvent some of the sampling problems that arise when independent data sets are combined, and these designs provide unique evaluations of maternal influences, assortative mating and X-linkage. Unfortunately, empirical studies of families of twin parents have been limited by relatively small samples and by the self-selection biases intrinsic in ascertainment of families from volunteer twin registries.
A large and representative cohort of monozygotic and dizygotic twin parents, drawn from a population-based twin registry, provides the optimal sampling frame for twin-family research. This paper reviews the sampling considerations underlying the initial family study based on the Finnish Twin Cohort and evaluates the representativeness of the sampled twins. Spouses and adult children (over 18 years) of 236 pairs of twins, about equally divided by gender and zygosity, were evaluated by a postal questionnaire. Individual response rates exceeded 86% and in 464 of the 472 nuclear families (98.3% ), at last one member of the twin's family completed the questionnaire. The sampled twins, selected for fecundity to maximize statistical power of the obtained data, were broadly representative of non-selected twins drawn from the Cohort, with whom they were matched on age, gender, and zygosity. Such results suggest that the Finnish Cohort has excellent potential for extended twin-family research designs.