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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common and highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD). In this narrative review, we summarize recent advances in quantitative and molecular genetic research from the past 5–10 years. Combined with large-scale international collaboration, these advances have resulted in fast-paced progress in understanding the etiology of ADHD and how genetic risk factors map on to clinical heterogeneity. Studies are converging on a number of key insights. First, ADHD is a highly polygenic NDD with a complex genetic architecture encompassing risk variants across the spectrum of allelic frequencies, which are implicated in neurobiological processes. Second, genetic studies strongly suggest that ADHD diagnosis shares a large proportion of genetic risks with continuously distributed traits of ADHD in the population, with shared genetic risks also seen across development and sex. Third, ADHD genetic risks are shared with those implicated in many other neurodevelopmental, psychiatric and somatic phenotypes. As sample sizes and the diversity of genetic studies continue to increase through international collaborative efforts, we anticipate further success with gene discovery, characterization of how the ADHD phenotype relates to other human traits and growing potential to use genomic risk factors for understanding clinical trajectories and for precision medicine approaches.
Twin studies function as natural experiments that reveal political ideology’s substantial genetic roots, but how does that comport with research showing a largely nonideological public? This study integrates two important literatures and tests whether political sophistication – itself heritable – provides an “enriched environment” for genetic predispositions to actualize in political attitudes. Estimates from the Minnesota Twin Study show that sociopolitical conservatism is extraordinarily heritable (74%) for the most informed fifth of the public – much more so than population-level results (57%) – but with much lower heritability (29%) for the public’s bottom half. This heterogeneity is clearest in the Wilson–Patterson (W-P) index, with similar patterns for individual index items, an ideological constraint measure, and ideological identification. The results resolve tensions between two key fields by showing that political knowledge facilitates the expression of genetic predispositions in mass politics.
The prevalence of an alcohol use disorder is increased four-fold in adopted children whose biological fathers are alcohol-addicted. Studies of twins indicate that about 40-- 60 percent of the causes of SUD come from genetic factors. Inheritable tendencies toward clinical depression, antisocial personality, or other psychiatric conditions contribute to SUD vulnerability, as could certain differences in brain or hormonal function. The genetic factors interact with developmental and other environmental influences to promote addiction. Endophenotypes are specific behaviors or responses closely related to SUD that are useful in the study of genetic factors. DNA analysis reveals specific variations in genes governing the dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine neurotransmitter systems that are associated with SUD for alcohol, nicotine, and other addictive drugs. No single gene has more than a small effect, but genetic influences on SUD come from varying combinations of many allelic differences. Whole-genome association tests, providing a wider view of genomic differences, will eventually provide a more complete picture of the overall genetic architecture of addiction vulnerability.
The Academic Development Study of Australian Twins was established in 2012 with the purpose of investigating the relative influence of genes and environments in literacy and numeracy capabilities across two primary and two secondary school grades in Australia. It is the first longitudinal twin project of its kind in Australia and comprises a sample of 2762 twin pairs, 40 triplet sets and 1485 nontwin siblings. Measures include standardized literacy and numeracy test data collected at Grades 3, 5, 7 and 9 as part of the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy. A range of demographic and behavioral data was also collected, some at multiple longitudinal time points. This article outlines the background and rationale for the study and provides an overview for the research design, sample and measures collected. Findings emerging from the project and future directions are discussed.
Anorexia nervosa is a severe and complex disorder with incompletely known vulnerability factors. It is generally recognized that anorexia nervosa is a familial disorder, but the majority of twin studies have shown that the concordance rate for monozygotic twins is higher (on average 44%) than for dizygotic twins (on average 12.5%). This difference in concordance rates shows that genetic factors, more than common familial environment, may explain why the `anorexia nervosa' phenotype runs in families. In order to estimate the heritability in the broad sense of anorexia nervosa according to published familial and twin studies, we first assessed the intrapair correlation between monozygotic and dizygotic twins, and secondly calculated the deviation threshold of relatives of affected probands from the relative mean. In this review, we obtained an estimation of the heritability at 0.72 according to all published controlled familial studies (six references quoted in MEDLINE®), and 0.71 for all published twin studies (59 references quoted in MEDLINE®). This estimation is close to the ones previously proposed, between 0.5 and 0.8.
Familial and twin studies may also help to define the boundaries of the phenotype, shedding light on the complex relationship between anorexia nervosa on the one hand, and bulimia nervosa, mood disorders, and alcoholism on the other. Demonstrating the importance of genetic factors in anorexia nervosa, and more specifically for anorexia of the restrictive type, requires not only prospective and adoption studies (which are still lacking), but also genetic polymorphisms analyses, which began very recently.
It has been well established that suicidal behavior is familial. Twin studies provide a unique opportunity to distinguish genetic effects from other familial influences. Consistent with findings from previous twin studies, including case series and selected samples, data from the population-based Swedish Twin Registry clearly demonstrate the importance of genetic influences on suicide. Twin studies of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts also implicate genetic influences, even when accounting for the effects of psychopathology. Future work is needed to evaluate the possibility of age and gender differences in heritability of suicide and nonfatal suicidal behavior.
Dr Nick Martin has made enormous contributions to the field of behavior genetics over the past 50 years. Of his many seminal papers that have had a profound impact, we focus on his early work on the power of twin studies. He was among the first to recognize the importance of sample size calculation before conducting a study to ensure sufficient power to detect the effects of interest. The elegant approach he developed, based on the noncentral chi-squared distribution, has been adopted by subsequent researchers for other genetic study designs, and today remains a standard tool for power calculations in structural equation modeling and other areas of statistical analysis. The present brief article discusses the main aspects of his seminal paper, and how it led to subsequent developments, by him and others, as the field of behavior genetics evolved into the present era.
Professor Nicholas G. Martin, from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, is a world leader in the effort to understand the genetic architecture underlying disordered gambling. This article pays tribute to Nick and his almost two decades of gambling research, highlighting his many strengths, ranging from the use of ingenious recruitment approaches, twin study methods, genomewide association studies, to facilitating international collaborations.
The Osaka University Twin Registry was originally established as a registry of older twins but was subsequently expanded to include twins of all ages. The Center for Twin Research at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine has been managing this registry, as well as collecting research information and bioresources from twin participants. Based on the resources, multidisciplinary research projects have been conducted in collaboration with researchers from institutions both inside and outside Japan. One of the main aims of the center is to collect research information as well as biological resources from registered twins, and to establish a biobank and databases of these data and bioresources. Although data availability may vary, the following data have been collected: physical data (e.g., height, body weight, blood pressure, theoretical visceral fat, pulse wave velocity and bone density); epidemiological data (e.g., medical history, lifestyle, quality of life, mood status, cognitive function and nutritional status); electrocardiography, ultrasonography (carotid artery and thyroid); dentistry, dermatological assessment; positron emission tomography; magnetoencephalographam; brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); and functional MRI. In addition to these in-person survey data, microbiome data have been collected from some participants. As for bioresources, peripheral blood is obtained from the participants for isolation of serum and extraction of DNA and RNA, then stored in deep freezers for further analyses. A variety of research projects are in progress and more are on the way both in Japan and internationally using these data.
The Italian Twin Registry (ITR), established in 2001, is a population-based registry of voluntary twins. To date, it consists of approximately 29,000 twins who gave their consent to participate in the studies proposed by the ITR research group. The database comprises 11,500 monozygotic and 16,700 dizygotic twins resident throughout the country and belonging to a wide age range (from 0 to 95 years, mean 36.8 years). This article provides an overview of the recruitment strategies along with the major phenotypes investigated during an 18 years’ research period. Over the years, several self-reported questionnaire data were collected, together with saliva/blood samples and measurements taken during in-person interviews or outpatient clinical examinations. Mental and behavioral phenotypes as well as atherosclerotic traits were studied in depth across different age groups. A birth cohort of twins was established and followed up. Novel research hypotheses are also being tested in ongoing projects. The ITR is involved in international studies in collaboration with other twin registries and represents a valuable resource for national and international research initiatives regarding a broad spectrum of health-related characteristics.
The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) is a longitudinal twin study that recruited over 16,000 twin-pairs born between 1994 and 1996 in England and Wales through national birth records. More than 10,000 of these families are still engaged in the study. TEDS was and still is a representative sample of the population in England and Wales. Rich cognitive and emotional/behavioral data have been collected from the twins from infancy to emerging adulthood, with data collection at first contact and at ages 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 21, enabling longitudinal genetically sensitive analyses. Data have been collected from the twins themselves, from their parents and teachers, and from the UK National Pupil Database. Genotyped DNA data are available for 10,346 individuals (who are unrelated except for 3320 dizygotic co-twins). TEDS data have contributed to over 400 scientific papers involving more than 140 researchers in 50 research institutions. TEDS offers an outstanding resource for investigating cognitive and behavioral development across childhood and early adulthood and actively fosters scientific collaborations.
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.
It has been over 5 years since the last special issue of Twin Research and Human Genetics on ‘Twin Registries Worldwide: An Important Resource for Scientific Research’ was published. Much progress has been made in the broad field of twin research since that time, and the current special issue is a follow-up to update the scientific community about twin registries around the globe. The present article builds upon our 2013 Registry description by summarizing current information on the Washington State Twin Registry (WSTR), including history and construction methods, member characteristics, available data, and major research goals. We also provide a section with brief summaries of recently completed studies and discuss the future research directions of the WSTR. The Registry has grown in terms of size and scope since 2013; highlights include recruitment of youth pairs under 18 years of age, extensive geocoding work to develop environmental exposures that can be linked to survey and administrative health data such as death records, and expansion of a biobank with specimens collected for genotyping, DNA methylation, and microbiome based-studies.
Determining (1) the direction of causation and (2) the size of causal effects between two constructs is a central challenge of the scientific study of humans. In the early 1990s, researchers in behavioral genetics invented what was termed the direction of causation (DoC) model to address exactly these two concerns. The model claims that for any two traits whose mode of inheritance is sufficiently different, the direction of causation can be ascertained using a sufficiently large genetically informative sample. Using a series of simulation studies, we demonstrate a major challenge to the DoC model, namely that it is extremely sensitive to even tiny amounts of non-shared confounding. Even under ideal conditions for the DoC model (a large sample, N = 10,000), a large causal relationship (e.g., a causal correlation of .50) with very different modes of inheritance between the two traits (e.g., a pure AE model for one trait and a pure CE model for another trait) and a modest degree (correlation of .10) of non-shared confounding between the two traits results in the choice of the wrong causal models and estimating the wrong causal effects.
Psychological distress (PSYCH), somatic distress (SOMA), affective disorders (AD), and substance use (SU) frequently co-occur. The genetic relationship between PSYCH and SOMA, however, remains understudied. We examined the genetic and environmental influences on these two disorders and their comorbid AD and SU using structural equation modeling. Self-reported PSYCH and SOMA were measured in 1,548 twins using the two subscales of a 12-item questionnaire, the Somatic and Psychological Health Report. Its reliability and psychometric properties were examined. Six ADs, involvement of licit and illicit substance, and two SU disorders were obtained from 1,663–2,132 twins using the World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview and/or from an online adaption of the same. SU phenotypes (heritability: 49–79%) were found to be more heritable than the affective disorder phenotypes (heritability: 32–42%), SOMA (heritability: 25%), and PSYCH (heritability: 23%). We fit separate non-parametric item response theory models for PSYCH, SOMA, AD, and SU. The IRT scores were used as the refined phenotypes for fitting multivariate genetic models. The best-fitting model showed the similar amount of genetic overlap between PSYCH–AD (genetic correlation rG = 0.49) and SOMA–AD (rG =0.53), as well as between PSYCH–SU (rG = 0.23) and SOMA–SU (rG = 0.25). Unique environmental factors explained 53% to 76% of the variance in each of these four phenotypes, whereas additive genetic factors explained 17% to 46% of the variance. The covariance between the four phenotypes was largely explained by unique environmental factors. Common genetic factor had a significant influence on all the four phenotypes, but they explained a moderate portion of the covariance.
Twin researchers face the challenge of accurately determining the zygosity of twins for research. As part of the annual questionnaire between 1999 and 2006, 8,307 twins from the TwinsUK registry were asked to complete five questions (independently from their co-twin) to ascertain their self-perceived zygosity during childhood on up to five separate occasions. This questionnaire is known as the ‘peas in the pod’ questionnaire (PPQ), but there is little evidence of its validation. Answers were scored and classified as monozygotic (MZ), dizygotic (DZ), or unknown zygosity (UZ) and were compared with 4,484 twins with genotyping data who had not been selected for zygosity. Of these, 3,859 individuals (46.5% of those who had a zygosity from PPQ) had zygosity classified by both the PPQ and genotyping. Of the 708 individual twins whose answers meant that they were consistently classed as MZ in the PPQ, 683 (96.5%) were MZ within the genotype data. Of the 945 individual twins consistently classed as DZ within questionnaire, 936 (99.0%) were DZ in the genotype data. Where both twins scored MZ consistently across multiple questionnaires, 99.6% were MZ on genotyping, 99.7% were DZ on genotyping if both twins consistently scored DZ. However, for the initial questionnaire, 88.6% of those scoring as MZ were genotypically MZ and 98.7% DZ. For twin pairs where both scored UZ, 94.7% were DZ. Using the PPQ on a single occasion provided a definitive classification of whether the twin was MZ or DZ with an overall accuracy of 86.9%, increasing to 97.9% when there was a consistent classification of zygosity across multiple questionnaires. This study has shown that the PPQ questionnaire is an excellent proxy indicator of zygosity in the absence of genotyping information.
Genetic influences play a significant role in risk for psychiatric disorders, prompting numerous endeavors to further understand their underlying genetic architecture. In this paper, we summarize and review evidence from traditional twin studies and more recent genome-wide molecular genetic analyses regarding two important issues that have proven particularly informative for psychiatric genetic research. First, emerging results are beginning to suggest that genetic risk factors for some (but not all) clinically diagnosed psychiatric disorders or extreme manifestations of psychiatric traits in the population share genetic risks with quantitative variation in milder traits of the same disorder throughout the general population. Second, there is now evidence for substantial sharing of genetic risks across different psychiatric disorders. This extends to the level of characteristic traits throughout the population, with which some clinical disorders also share genetic risks. In this review, we summarize and evaluate the evidence for these two issues, for a range of psychiatric disorders. We then critically appraise putative interpretations regarding the potential meaning of genetic correlation across psychiatric phenotypes. We highlight several new methods and studies which are already using these insights into the genetic architecture of psychiatric disorders to gain additional understanding regarding the underlying biology of these disorders. We conclude by outlining opportunities for future research in this area.
Twin studies have revealed political ideology to be partially heritable. Neurological research has shown that ideological differences are reflected in brain structure and response, suggesting a direct genotype-phenotype link. Social and informational environments, however, also demonstrably affect brain structure and response. This leads to a “chicken-and-egg” question: do genes produce brains with ideological predispositions, causing the preferential absorption of consonant information and thereby forming an ideology, or do social and informational environments do most of the heavy lifting, with genetic evidence the spurious artifact of outdated methodology? Or are both inextricably intertwined contributors? This article investigates the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors to ideological development using a role-play experiment investigating the development of opinions on a novel political issue. The results support the view that the process is bidirectional, suggesting that, like most traits, political ideology is produced by the complex interplay of genetic and (social/informational) environmental influences.
Numerous factors influence late-life depressive symptoms in adults, many not thoroughly characterized. We addressed whether genetic and environmental influences on depressive symptoms differed by age, sex, and physical illness.
The analysis sample included 24 436 twins aged 40–90 years drawn from the Interplay of Genes and Environment across Multiple Studies (IGEMS) Consortium. Biometric analyses tested age, sex, and physical illness moderation of genetic and environmental variance in depressive symptoms.
Women reported greater depressive symptoms than men. After age 60, there was an accelerating increase in depressive symptom scores with age, but this did not appreciably affect genetic and environmental variances. Overlap in genetic influences between physical illness and depressive symptoms was greater in men than in women. Additionally, in men extent of overlap was greater with worse physical illness (the genetic correlation ranged from near 0.00 for the least physical illness to nearly 0.60 with physical illness 2 s.d. above the mean). For men and women, the same environmental factors that influenced depressive symptoms also influenced physical illness.
Findings suggested that genetic factors play a larger part in the association between depressive symptoms and physical illness for men than for women. For both sexes, across all ages, physical illness may similarly trigger social and health limitations that contribute to depressive symptoms.
One salient characteristic of twin studies and the related behavioral genetics paradigm is the requirement of a large sample size. Countries or regions that are large in size and highly populated are at an advantage when implementing twin studies. However, given the fascinating and promising results obtained from twin studies, many researchers based in smaller countries or regions may still want to conduct twin studies in order to address local and theoretical issues. In this article, we have outlined the development of twin studies in Hong Kong, one of the Special Administrative Regions of China. The historical development and design of the two major twin studies of language and reading development implemented within Hong Kong are discussed, providing insights to researchers who also aspire to conduct twin studies in small regions.