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The schizophrenia polygenic risk score (SCZ-PRS) is an emerging tool in psychiatry.
We aimed to evaluate the utility of SCZ-PRS in a young, transdiagnostic, clinical cohort.
SCZ-PRSs were calculated for young people who presented to early-intervention youth mental health clinics, including 158 patients of European ancestry, 113 of whom had longitudinal outcome data. We examined associations between SCZ-PRS and diagnosis, clinical stage and functioning at initial assessment, and new-onset psychotic disorder, clinical stage transition and functional course over time in contact with services.
Compared with a control group, patients had elevated PRSs for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, but not for any non-psychiatric phenotype (for example cardiovascular disease). Higher SCZ-PRSs were elevated in participants with psychotic, bipolar, depressive, anxiety and other disorders. At initial assessment, overall SCZ-PRSs were associated with psychotic disorder (odds ratio (OR) per s.d. increase in SCZ-PRS was 1.68, 95% CI 1.08–2.59, P = 0.020), but not assignment as clinical stage 2+ (i.e. discrete, persistent or recurrent disorder) (OR = 0.90, 95% CI 0.64–1.26, P = 0.53) or functioning (R = 0.03, P = 0.76). Longitudinally, overall SCZ-PRSs were not significantly associated with new-onset psychotic disorder (OR = 0.84, 95% CI 0.34–2.03, P = 0.69), clinical stage transition (OR = 1.02, 95% CI 0.70–1.48, P = 0.92) or persistent functional impairment (OR = 0.84, 95% CI 0.52–1.38, P = 0.50).
In this preliminary study, SCZ-PRSs were associated with psychotic disorder at initial assessment in a young, transdiagnostic, clinical cohort accessing early-intervention services. Larger clinical studies are needed to further evaluate the clinical utility of SCZ-PRSs, especially among individuals with high SCZ-PRS burden.
Nick Martin is a pioneer in recognizing the need for large sample size to study the complex, heterogeneous and polygenic disorders of common mental disorders. In the predigital era, questionnaires were mailed to thousands of twin pairs around Australia. Always quick to adopt new technology, Nick’s studies progressed to phone interviews and then online. Moreover, Nick was early to recognize the value of collecting DNA samples. As genotyping technologies improved over the years, these twin and family cohorts were used for linkage, candidate gene and genome-wide association studies. These cohorts have underpinned many analyses to disentangle the complex web of genetic and lifestyle factors associated with mental health. With characteristic foresight, Nick is chief investigator of our Australian Genetics of Depression Study, which has recruited 16,000 people with self-reported depression (plus DNA samples) over a time frame of a few months — analyses are currently ongoing. The mantra of sample size, sample size, sample size has guided Nick’s research over the last 30 years and continues to do so.
Monozygotic (MZ) twins provide a natural system for investigating developmental plasticity and the potential epigenetic origins of disease. A major difference in the intrauterine environment between MZ pairs is whether they share a common placenta or have separate placentas. Using DNA methylation measured at >400,000 points in the genome on the Illumina HumanMethylation450 array, we demonstrate that the co-twins of MZ pairs (average age of 14) that shared a common placenta (n = 18 pairs) have more similar DNA methylation levels in blood throughout the genome relative to those with separate placentas (n = 16 pairs). Functional annotation of the genomic regions that show significantly different correlation between monochorionic (MC) and dichorionic (DC) MZ pairs found an over-representation of genes involved in the regulation of transcription, neuronal development, and cellular differentiation. These results support the idea that prenatal environmental exposures may have a lasting effect on an individual's epigenetic landscape, and the potential for these changes to have functional consequences.
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.
Cytokines and vitamin D both have a role in modulating the immune system, and are also potentially useful biomarkers in mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and schizophrenia. Studying the variability of cytokines and vitamin D in a healthy population sample may add to understanding the association between these biomarkers and mental illness. To assess genetic and environmental contributions to variation in circulating levels of cytokines and vitamin D (25-hydroxy vitamin D: 25(OH)D3), we analyzed data from a healthy adolescent twin cohort (mean age 16.2 years; standard deviation 0.25). Plasma cytokine measures were available for 400 individuals (85 MZ, 115 DZ pairs), dried blood spot sample vitamin D measures were available for 378 individuals (70 MZ, 118 DZ pairs). Heritability estimates were moderate but significant for the cytokines transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), 0.57 (95% CI 0.26–0.80) and tumor necrosis factor-receptor type 1 (TNFR1), 0.50 (95% CI 0.11–0.63) respectively. Measures of 25(OH)D3 were within normal range and heritability was estimated to be high (0.86, 95% CI 0.61–0.94). Assays of other cytokines did not generate meaningful results. These potential biomarkers may be useful in mental illness, with further research warranted in larger sample sizes. They may be particularly important in adolescents with mental illness where diagnostic uncertainty poses a significant clinical challenge.
Imprinting control regions (ICRs) play a fundamental role in establishing and maintaining the non-random monoallelic expression of certain genes, via common regulatory elements such as non-coding RNAs and differentially methylated regions (DMRs) of DNA. We recently surveyed DNA methylation levels within four ICRs (H19-ICR, IGF2-DMR, KvDMR, and NESPAS-ICR) in whole-blood genomic DNA from 128 monozygotic (MZ) and 128 dizygotic (DZ) human twin pairs. Our analyses revealed high individual variation and intra-domain covariation in methylation levels across CpGs and emphasized the interaction between epigenetic variation and the underlying genetic sequence in a parent-of-origin fashion. Here, we extend our analysis to conduct two genome-wide screenings of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) underlying either intra-domain covariation or parent-of-origin-dependent association with methylation status at individual CpG sites located within ICRs. Although genome-wide significance was not surpassed due to sample size limitations, the most significantly associated SNPs found through multiple-trait genome-wide association (MQFAM) included the previously described rs10732516, which is located in the vicinity of the H19-ICR. Similarly, we identified an association between rs965808 and methylation status within the NESPAS-ICR. This SNP is positioned within an intronic region of the overlapping genes GNAS and GNAS-AS1, which are imprinted genes regulated by the NESPAS-ICR. Sixteen other SNPs located in regions apart from the analyzed regions displayed suggestive association with intra-domain methylation. Additionally, we identified 13 SNPs displaying parent-of-origin association with individual methylation sites through family-based association testing. In this exploratory study, we show the value and feasibility of using alternative GWAS approaches in the study of the interaction between epigenetic state and genetic sequence within imprinting regulatory domains. Despite the relatively small sample size, we identified a number of SNPs displaying suggestive association either in a domain-wide or in a parent-of-origin fashion. Nevertheless, these associations will require future experimental validation or replication in larger and independent samples.
We describe the data being collected from the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study in Australia as part of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded project, Pathways to Cannabis Use, Abuse and Dependence. The history, recruitment, assessment, and retention of twin families in this project are described in detail, along with preliminary findings and plans for future research. The goal of this NIDA project is to make a significant contribution to the discovery of quantitative trait loci influencing cannabis use disorders. Although the focus is cannabis use, abuse, and dependence in young adults, measures of comorbid illicit drug use disorders are also being collected. In addition, a variety of internalizing and externalizing disorders are being assessed, funded by support from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. Because these same twins have participated in numerous twin studies since 1992, future plans will include linking different phenotypes to investigate relationships between drug use, psychiatric disorders, and psychological phenotypes within cross-sectional and longitudinal or developmental frameworks.
Genes in the TGF9 signaling pathway play important roles in the regulation of ovarian follicle growth and ovulation rate. Mutations in three genes in this pathway, growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9), bone morphogenetic protein 15 (BMP15) and the bone morphogenetic protein receptor B 1 (BMPRB1), influence dizygotic (DZ) twinning rates in sheep. To date, only variants in GDF9 and BMP15, but not their receptors transforming growth factor ß receptor 1 (TGFBR1), bone morphogenetic protein receptor 2 (BMPR2) and BMPR1B, have been investigated with respect to their roles in human DZ twinning. We screened for rare and novel variants in TGFBR1, BMPR2 and BMPR1B in mothers of dizygotic twins (MODZT) from twin-dense families, and assessed association between genotyped and imputed variants and DZ twinning in another large sample of MODZT. Three novel variants were found: a deep intronic variant in BMPR2, and one intronic and one non-synonymous exonic variant in BMPRB1 which would result in the replacement of glutamine by glutamic acid at amino acid position 294 (p.Gln294Glu). None of these variants were predicted to have major impacts on gene function. However, the p.Gln294Glu variant changes the same amino acid as a sheep BMPR1B functional variant and may have functional consequences. Six BMPR1B variants were marginally associated with DZ twinning in the larger case-control sample, but these were no longer significant once multiple testing was taken into account. Our results suggest that variation in the TGF9 signaling pathway type II receptors has limited effects on DZ twinning rates in humans.
Human height and body mass index are influenced by a large number of genes, each with small effects, along with environment. To identify common genetic variants associated with these traits, we performed genome-wide association studies in 11,536 individuals composed of Australian twins, family members, and unrelated individuals at ∼550,000 genotyped SNPs. We identified a single genome-wide significant variant for height (P value = 1.06 × 10–9) located in HHIP, a well-replicated height-associated gene. Suggestive levels of association were found for other known genes associated with height (P values < 1 × 10–6): ADAMTSL3, EFEMP1, GPR126, and HMGA2; and BMI (P values < 1 × 10–4): FTO and MC4R. Together, these variants explain less than 2% of total phenotypic variation for height and 0.5% for BMI.
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