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In studies of singletons, a range of early-life characteristics have been reported to be associated with handedness, but some of these associations have failed to replicate. We examined associations between 23 early life characteristics with handedness in a large sample of 37,495 5-year-old twins. We considered three definitions of handedness: left-handedness (LH), mixed-handedness (MH), and non-right-handedness (NRH). Our main aim was to test whether the associations with sex, birth weight, gestational age, and season of birth — as reported in singletons — replicate in twins, and to examine twin-specific variables, including zygosity, chorionicity, birth order, and intertwin delivery time. Compared to previously published data from adults born as singletons (7.23%), the prevalence of NRH was higher in both twins (16.19%) and their parents (15.09%). In the twins, LH and NRH were associated with parents’ LH. Male sex and lower gestational age were associated with NRH, and LH was associated with not being breastfed. MH was related to neurodevelopmental delays and higher externalizing problems later in childhood. Other previously reported associations were not replicated, and no twin-specific characteristics were related to handedness. These results emphasize the importance of considering multiple definitions of handedness and indicate a small number of replicated associations across studies.
The COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins) project is a large international collaborative effort to analyze individual-level phenotype data from twins in multiple cohorts from different environments. The main objective is to study factors that modify genetic and environmental variation of height, body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) and size at birth, and additionally to address other research questions such as long-term consequences of birth size. The project started in 2013 and is open to all twin projects in the world having height and weight measures on twins with information on zygosity. Thus far, 54 twin projects from 24 countries have provided individual-level data. The CODATwins database includes 489,981 twin individuals (228,635 complete twin pairs). Since many twin cohorts have collected longitudinal data, there is a total of 1,049,785 height and weight observations. For many cohorts, we also have information on birth weight and length, own smoking behavior and own or parental education. We found that the heritability estimates of height and BMI systematically changed from infancy to old age. Remarkably, only minor differences in the heritability estimates were found across cultural–geographic regions, measurement time and birth cohort for height and BMI. In addition to genetic epidemiological studies, we looked at associations of height and BMI with education, birth weight and smoking status. Within-family analyses examined differences within same-sex and opposite-sex dizygotic twins in birth size and later development. The CODATwins project demonstrates the feasibility and value of international collaboration to address gene-by-exposure interactions that require large sample sizes and address the effects of different exposures across time, geographical regions and socioeconomic status.
We analyzed birth order differences in means and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from infancy to old age. The data were derived from the international CODATwins database. The total number of height and BMI measures from 0.5 to 79.5 years of age was 397,466. As expected, first-born twins had greater birth weight than second-born twins. With respect to height, first-born twins were slightly taller than second-born twins in childhood. After adjusting the results for birth weight, the birth order differences decreased and were no longer statistically significant. First-born twins had greater BMI than the second-born twins over childhood and adolescence. After adjusting the results for birth weight, birth order was still associated with BMI until 12 years of age. No interaction effect between birth order and zygosity was found. Only limited evidence was found that birth order influenced variances of height or BMI. The results were similar among boys and girls and also in MZ and DZ twins. Overall, the differences in height and BMI between first- and second-born twins were modest even in early childhood, while adjustment for birth weight reduced the birth order differences but did not remove them for BMI.
A trend toward greater body size in dizygotic (DZ) than in monozygotic (MZ) twins has been suggested by some but not all studies, and this difference may also vary by age. We analyzed zygosity differences in mean values and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) among male and female twins from infancy to old age. Data were derived from an international database of 54 twin cohorts participating in the COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins), and included 842,951 height and BMI measurements from twins aged 1 to 102 years. The results showed that DZ twins were consistently taller than MZ twins, with differences of up to 2.0 cm in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.9 cm in adulthood. Similarly, a greater mean BMI of up to 0.3 kg/m2 in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.2 kg/m2 in adulthood was observed in DZ twins, although the pattern was less consistent. DZ twins presented up to 1.7% greater height and 1.9% greater BMI than MZ twins; these percentage differences were largest in middle and late childhood and decreased with age in both sexes. The variance of height was similar in MZ and DZ twins at most ages. In contrast, the variance of BMI was significantly higher in DZ than in MZ twins, particularly in childhood. In conclusion, DZ twins were generally taller and had greater BMI than MZ twins, but the differences decreased with age in both sexes.
Chorion type may significantly influence the prenatal environment of twins. This study explored the associations between chorion type and gestational age, birth weight, birth length, and the timing of emergence of the first primary tooth in two populations of twins, Australian and Dutch. Additionally, we investigated the relationship between chorion type and birth weight discordance (BWD) in order to determine whether a significant relationship existed between discordance in birth weight and discordance in the timing of emergence of the first primary tooth. The two study samples consisted of 409 Australian twin pairs and 301 Dutch twin pairs, all of European ancestry. Data were collected through a combination of questionnaires and recording charts administered to the parents and through linkage with biological databases. In the Australian sample, monozygotic monochorionic (MZMC) twins experienced the shortest mean gestation time (35 weeks), the lowest mean birth length (46 cm) and the lowest mean birth weight (2.3 kg) compared with other twin groups. For the same variables in the Dutch sample, these trends with MZMC twinning were not observed. Chorion type did not significantly affect the mean timing of emergence of the first primary tooth in either sample. Monochorionicity was found to be significantly associated with BWD in both samples, but there was a significant association between BWD in MZMC twin pairs and timing of emergence of the first primary tooth only in the Australian sample. Results from this study support previous findings that the timing of emergence of the first primary tooth is influenced strongly by genetic factors and is well protected from environmental disturbances.
For over 100 years, the genetics of human anthropometric traits has attracted scientific interest. In particular, height and body mass index (BMI, calculated as kg/m2) have been under intensive genetic research. However, it is still largely unknown whether and how heritability estimates vary between human populations. Opportunities to address this question have increased recently because of the establishment of many new twin cohorts and the increasing accumulation of data in established twin cohorts. We started a new research project to analyze systematically (1) the variation of heritability estimates of height, BMI and their trajectories over the life course between birth cohorts, ethnicities and countries, and (2) to study the effects of birth-related factors, education and smoking on these anthropometric traits and whether these effects vary between twin cohorts. We identified 67 twin projects, including both monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, using various sources. We asked for individual level data on height and weight including repeated measurements, birth related traits, background variables, education and smoking. By the end of 2014, 48 projects participated. Together, we have 893,458 height and weight measures (52% females) from 434,723 twin individuals, including 201,192 complete twin pairs (40% monozygotic, 40% same-sex dizygotic and 20% opposite-sex dizygotic) representing 22 countries. This project demonstrates that large-scale international twin studies are feasible and can promote the use of existing data for novel research purposes.
The influence of genetic factors on major depressive disorder is lower than on other psychiatric disorders. Heritability estimates mainly derive from cross-sectional studies, and knowledge on the longitudinal aetiology of symptoms of anxiety and depression (SxAnxDep) across the lifespan is limited. We aimed to assess phenotypic, genetic and environmental stability in SxAnxDep between ages 3 and 63 years.
We used a cohort-sequential design combining data from 49 524 twins followed from birth to age ⩾20 years, and from adolescence into adulthood. SxAnxDep were assessed repeatedly with a maximum of eight assessments over a 25-year period. Data were ordered in 30 age groups and analysed with longitudinal genetic models.
Over age, there was a significant increase during adolescence in mean scores with sex differences (women>men) emerging. Heritability was high in childhood and decreased to 30–40% during adulthood. This decrease in heritability was due to an increase in environmental variance. Phenotypic stability was moderate in children (correlations across ages ~0.5) and high in adolescents (r = 0.6), young adults (r = 0.7), and adults (r = 0.8). Longitudinal stability was mostly attributable to genetic factors. During childhood and adolescence there was also significant genetic innovation, which was absent in adults. Environmental effects contributed to short-term stability.
The substantial stability in SxAnxDep is mainly due to genetic effects. The importance of environmental effects increases with age and explains the relatively low heritability of depression in adults. The environmental effects are transient, but the contribution to stability increases with age.
The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) began in 1987 with data collection in twins and their families, including families with newborn twins and triplets. Twenty-five years later, the NTR has collected at least one survey for 70,784 children, born after 1985. For the majority of twins, longitudinal data collection has been done by age-specific surveys. Shortly after giving birth, mothers receive a first survey with items on pregnancy and birth. At age 2, a survey on growth and achievement of milestones is sent. At ages 3, 7, 9/10, and 12 parents and teachers receive a series of surveys that are targeted at the development of emotional and behavior problems. From age 14 years onward, adolescent twins and their siblings report on their behavior problems, health, and lifestyle. When the twins are 18 years and older, parents are also invited to take part in survey studies. In sub-groups of different ages, in-depth phenotyping was done for IQ, electroencephalography , MRI, growth, hormones, neuropsychological assessments, and cardiovascular measures. DNA and biological samples have also been collected and large numbers of twin pairs and parents have been genotyped for zygosity by either micro-satellites or sets of short nucleotide polymorphisms and repeat polymorphisms in candidate genes. Subject recruitment and data collection is still ongoing and the longitudinal database is growing. Data collection by record linkage in the Netherlands is beginning and we expect these combined longitudinal data to provide increased insights into the genetic etiology of development of mental and physical health in children and adolescents.
From childhood into adolescence, the child's brain undergoes considerable changes in both structure and function. Twin studies are of great value to explore to what extent genetic and environmental factors explain individual differences in brain development and cognition. In The Netherlands, we initiated a longitudinal study in which twins, their siblings and their parents are assessed at three year intervals. The participants were recruited from The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) and at baseline consisted of 112 families, with 9-year-old twins and an older sibling. Three years later, 89 families returned for follow-up assessment. Data collection included psychometric IQ tests, a comprehensive neuropsychological testing protocol, and parental and self-ratings of behavioral and emotional problems. Physical maturation was measured through assessment of Tanner stages. Hormonal levels (cortisol, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, testosterone, and estrogens) were assessed in urine and saliva. Brain scans were acquired using 1.5 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which provided volumetric measures and measures of cortical thickness. Buccal swabs were collected for DNA isolation for future candidate gene and genome-wide analysis studies. This article gives an overview of the study and the main findings. Participants will return for a third assessment when the twins are around 16 years old. Longitudinal twin-sibling studies that map brain development and cognitive function at well-defined ages aid in the understanding of genetic influences on normative brain development.
The main aim of this study was to examine twin specific risk factors that influence educational achievement in primary school. We included prenatal factors that are not unique to twins, except for zygosity, but show a higher prevalence in twins than in singletons. In addition, educational achievement was compared between twins and their nontwin siblings in a within-family design. Data were obtained from parents and teachers of approximately 10,000 twins and their nontwin siblings registered with the Netherlands Twin Register. Teachers rated the proficiency of the children on arithmetic, language, reading, and physical education, and reported a national educational achievement test score (CITO). Structural equation modeling showed that gestational age, birth weight, and sex were significant predictors of educational achievement, even after correction for socioeconomic status. Mode of delivery and zygosity did not have an effect, while parental age only influenced arithmetic. Mode of conception, incubator time, and birth complications negatively affected achievement in physical education. The comparison of educational achievement of twins and singletons showed significantly lower ratings on arithmetic, reading, and language in twins, compared to their older siblings, but not compared to their younger siblings. Low gestational age and low birth weight were the most important risk factors for lower educational achievement of twins in primary school. It seems that the differences observed between twins and their nontwin siblings in educational achievement can largely be explained by birth order within the family.
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.
A consistent finding from twin studies is that the environment shared by family members does not contribute to the variation in susceptibility to asthma. At the same time, it is known that environmental risk factors that are shared by family members are associated with the liability for asthma. We hypothesize that the absence of a main effect of shared environmental factors in twin studies can be explained by gene–environment interaction, that is, that the effect of an environmental factor shared by family members depends on the genotype of the individual. We explore this hypothesis by modeling the resemblance in asthma liability in twin pairs as a function of various environmental risk factors and test for gene–environment interaction. Asthma data were obtained by parental report for nearly 12,000 5-year-old twin pairs. A series of environmental risk factors was examined: birth cohort, gestational age, time spent in incubator, breastfeeding, maternal educational level, maternal smoking during pregnancy, current smoking of parents, having older siblings, and amount of child care outside home. Results revealed that being a boy, born in the 1990s, premature birth, longer incubator time, and child care outside home increased the risk for asthma. With the exception of premature birth, however, none of these factors modified the genetic effects on asthma. In very premature children shared environmental influences were important. In children born after a gestation of 32 weeks or more only genetic factors were important to explain familial resemblance for asthma.
We studied the short- and long-term effects of classroom separation in twins on behavior problems and academic performance. Short-term effects were studied at age 7 in twins separated at age 5 and long-term effects at age 12 in twins who had been separated or together most of the time at school. Behavior problems were rated by mothers (Child Behavior Checklist at ages 3, 7 and 12) and teachers (Teacher Report Form at ages 7 and 12). Academic achievement was measured at age 12 using a national academic achievement test (CITO). At age 7, twins from separated pairs had more internalizing and externalizing problems than non- separated twins, as rated by both mothers and teachers. Only for the maternal ratings of internalizing problems, however, could these effects be attributed to the separation itself and not to preexisting problems (at age 3) between separated and nonseparated twins. Long-term effects of separation were significant for maternal and teacher ratings of internalizing and externalizing problems, but these effects could be explained by preexisting differences between separated and nonseparated groups. There were no differences in academic achievement between the separated and nonsepa- rated group. These results suggest that the decision to separate twins when they go to school is based in part on the existing behavioral problems of the twins and that, in the long run, separation does not affect problem behavior or academic achievement. The findings were the same for monozygotic and dizygotic twins.
Several studies report caesarean section (CS) to be a risk factor for childhood asthma. We used data from a large cohort of 5-year-old twins to examine the relationship between mode of birth delivery and asthma. The extent to which an infant is exposed to maternal vaginal flora may protect against the risk of developing asthma. Therefore, we expect a lower rate of asthma in twins born by vaginal delivery (VD) than those born by CS, and a lower rate of asthma in first-born twins compared to second-born twins by VD. Information on mode of delivery was obtained at the time of birth in a survey completed by the mother shortly after delivery. Information on history of asthma diagnosis by a physician was obtained by parental report when the twins were 5 years old. Complete data were available for 6330 first-born and 5438 second-born twins from birth cohorts 1991–2000. Full term first-born twins born by CS had a significantly higher risk of asthma compared to those born by VD, odds ratio = 1.59 (95% CI = 1.23–2.06). No significant differences were observed between CS and VD first-born twins when gestational age was less than 37 weeks, and no significant differences were observed between CS and VD second-born twins at any gestational age. No differences in asthma prevalence were found between first- and second-born twins both born by VD. CS may increase the risk of asthma to full term infants, however, the underlying mechanism is unclear.
Previous studies have looked at the structure of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) using latent class analysis (LCA) of Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) symptom structure. These studies have identified distinct classes of children with inattentive, hyperactive, or combined subtypes and have used these classes to refine genetic analyses. The objective of the current report is to determine if the latent class structure of ADHD subtypes is consistent across informant using the Conners' Rating Scales (CRS). LCA was applied to CRS forms from mother, father, and teacher reports of 1837, 1329 and 1048 latency aged Dutch twins, respectively. The optimal solution for boys was a 5-class solution for mothers, a 3-class solution for fathers, and a 4-class solution for teachers. For girls, a 4-class solution for mothers and a 3-class for fathers and teachers was optimal. Children placed into a class by one informant had markedly increased odds ratio of being placed into the same or similar class by the other informants. Results from LCA using Dutch twins with the CRS show stability across informants suggesting that more stable phenotypes may be accessible for genotyping using a multi-informant approach.
In the late 1980s The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) was established by recruiting young twins and multiples at birth and by approaching adolescent and young adult twins through city councils. The Adult NTR (ANTR) includes twins, their parents, siblings, spouses and their adult offspring. The number of participants in the ANTR who take part in survey and / or laboratory studies is over 22,000 subjects. A special group of participants consists of sisters who are mothers of twins. In the Young NTR (YNTR), data on more than 50,000 young twins have been collected. Currently we are extending the YNTR by including siblings of twins. Participants in YNTR and ANTR have been phenotyped every 2 to 3 years in longitudinal survey studies, since 1986 and 1991 for the YNTR and ANTR, respectively. The resulting large population-based datasets are used for genetic epidemiological studies and also, for example, to advance phenotyping through the development of new syndrome scales based on existing items from other inventories. New research developments further include brain imaging studies in selected and unselected groups, clinical assessment of psychopathology through interviews, and cross-referencing the NTR database to other national databases. A large biobank enterprise is ongoing in the ANTR in which blood and urine samples are collected for genotyping, expression analysis, and meta-bolomics studies. In this paper we give an update on the YNTR and ANTR phenotyping and on the ongoing ANTR biobank studies.
The aim of this study is to examine causes of individual differences in height, weight and body mass index (BMI) in 5-year-old children registered with the Netherlands Twin Register. In addition, we examine whether the results of twin studies can be expanded to the singleton population by comparing the data from twins to Dutch reference growth data and by looking at the twins' target height, which was derived from parental height. For 2996 5-year-old twin pairs, information on height and weight and on parental height was available. Univariate and bivariate genetic analyses of height and weight and univariate analyses of BMI were conducted. In order to compare the twins to the singleton population, standard deviation scores (SDS) for height, BMI and target height were calculated based on Dutch reference growth charts for the general population from 1997. Genetic influences were an important source of variation in height, weight and BMI and the main source of covariation between height and weight. Additive genetic factors accounted for 69% and 66% of the individual differences in height in boys and girls, respectively. For weight, heritability estimates were 59% in boys and 78% in girls and for BMI 34% and 74%. The influence of common environment on height was 25% and 27%, on weight 24% and 10% and on BMI 44% and 12% in boys and girls. The bivariate model showed a large overlap between the genes influencing height and weight. Genes explain 78% (in boys) and 76% (in girls) of the covariance between weight and height. At the age of 5 years, female twins were as tall as singleton children, while male twins were shorter than singletons. For both boys and girls, however, mean height SDS was 0.6 standard deviation scores below the mean target height. All twins had lower BMI than singletons. Twins grow fairly well compared to singletons, but they grow below their target height. This may be due to the above average height of twin parents.
Research on twin-singleton differences in externalizing and internalizing problems in childhood is largely cross-sectional and yields contrasting results. The goal of this study was to compare developmental trajectories of externalizing and internalizing problems in 6- to 12-year-old twins and singletons. Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) maternal reports of externalizing and internalizing problems were obtained for a sample of 9651 twins from the Netherlands Twin Register and for a representative general population sample of 1351 singletons. Latent growth modeling was applied to estimate growth curves for twins and singletons. Twin-singleton differences in the intercepts and slopes of the growth curves were examined. The developmental trajectories of externalizing problems showed a linear decrease over time, and were not significantly different for twins and singletons. Internalizing problems seem to develop similarly for twins and singletons up to age 9. After this age twins' internalizing symptoms start to decrease in comparison to those of singletons, resulting in less internalizing problems than singletons by the age of 12 years. Our findings confirm the generalizability of twin studies to singleton populations with regard to externalizing problems in middle and late childhood. The generalizability of studies on internalizing problems in early adolescence in twin samples should be addressed with care. Twinship may be a protective factor in the development of internalizing problems during early adolescence.
The aim of this study was to investigate the reliability of obtaining through mailed surveys maternal reports of specific major motor milestones achievement. To accomplish this aim we compared and contrasted mailed survey data and telephone interview data on a series of questions about age at which motor milestones were achieved. We used monthly telephone interviews with mothers of 238 twin pairs, beginning at age 6 months, which ascertained the age at which each specific milestone was met. The contrasting ‘through the mail’ survey was sent after the second birthday of an independent group of children, and included 463 twin pairs. All twins were born between March 2003 and March 2004. Comparisons were made for the following 5 milestones: sitting without support, hands and knees crawling, turning from back to belly, standing without support, and walking without support. There was no difference between the concurrent telephone interviews and the retrospective through the mail survey on any of the landmarks, except ‘standing without support’. From this work we conclude that data on achieving milestones can be reliably obtained through the mail using retrospective surveys when the children are 2 years of age.
Birthweight has implications for physical and mental health in later life. Using data from Caucasian twins collected in Australia, the Netherlands and the United States, and from East Asian twins collected in Japan and South Korea, we compared the total phenotypic, genetic and environmental variances of birthweight between Caucasians and East Asians. Model-fitting analyses yielded four major findings. First, for both males and females, the total phenotypic variances of birthweight were about 45% larger in Caucasians than in East Asians. The larger phenotypic variances were mainly attributable to a greater shared environmental variance of birth- weight in Caucasians (ranging from 62% to 67% of variance) than Asians (48% to 53%). Second, the genetic variance of birthweight was equal in Caucasians and East Asians for both males and females, explaining a maximum of 17% of variance. Third, small variations in total phenotypic variances of birthweight within Caucasians and within East Asians were mainly due to differences in nonshared environmental variances. We speculate that maternal effects (both genetic and environmental) explain the large shared environmental variance in birthweight and may account for the differences in phenotypic variance in birthweight between Caucasians and East Asians. Recent molecular findings and specific environmental factors that are subsumed by maternal effects are discussed.