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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.
A literature review was carried out to identify pre and perinatal characteristics associated with variation in Apgar scores in population-based studies. The parameters identified in the literature search were included in the classical twin design study to estimate effects of pre and perinatal factors shared and nonshared by twins and to test for a contribution of genetic factors in 1- and 5-min Apgar scores in a large sample of Dutch monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins. The sample included MZ and DZ twins (N = 5181 pairs) recruited by the Netherlands Twin Register shortly after birth, with data on prenatal characteristics and Apgar scores at first and/or fifth minutes. The ordinal regression and structural equation modeling were used to analyze the effects of characteristics identified in the literature review and to estimate genetic and nongenetic variance components. The literature review identified 63 papers. Consistent with the review, we observed statistically significant effects of birth order, zygosity and gestational age (GA) for 1- and 5-min Apgar scores of both twins. Apgar scores are higher in first-born versus second-born twins and DZ first-born versus MZ first-born twins. Birth weight had an effect on the 5-min Apgar of the first born. Fetal presentation and mode of delivery had different effects on Apgar scores of first- and second-born twins. Parental characteristics and chorionicity did not have significant main effects on Apgar scores. The MZ twins’ Apgar correlations equaled the DZ Apgar correlations. Our analyses suggest that individual differences in 1- and 5-min Apgar scores are attributable to shared and nonshared pre and perinatal factors, but not to genotypic factors of the newborns. The main predictors of Apgar scores are birth order, zygosity, GA, birth weight, mode of delivery and fetal presentation.
Whether monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins differ from each other in a variety of phenotypes is important for genetic twin modeling and for inferences made from twin studies in general. We analyzed whether there were differences in individual, maternal and paternal education between MZ and DZ twins in a large pooled dataset. Information was gathered on individual education for 218,362 adult twins from 27 twin cohorts (53% females; 39% MZ twins), and on maternal and paternal education for 147,315 and 143,056 twins respectively, from 28 twin cohorts (52% females; 38% MZ twins). Together, we had information on individual or parental education from 42 twin cohorts representing 19 countries. The original education classifications were transformed to education years and analyzed using linear regression models. Overall, MZ males had 0.26 (95% CI [0.21, 0.31]) years and MZ females 0.17 (95% CI [0.12, 0.21]) years longer education than DZ twins. The zygosity difference became smaller in more recent birth cohorts for both males and females. Parental education was somewhat longer for fathers of DZ twins in cohorts born in 1990–1999 (0.16 years, 95% CI [0.08, 0.25]) and 2000 or later (0.11 years, 95% CI [0.00, 0.22]), compared with fathers of MZ twins. The results show that the years of both individual and parental education are largely similar in MZ and DZ twins. We suggest that the socio-economic differences between MZ and DZ twins are so small that inferences based upon genetic modeling of twin data are not affected.
Peer bullying and victimization are a widespread phenomenon among school-age children and can have detrimental effects on the development of children. To examine whether having a close companion during childhood increases or decreases risk of victimization and bullying, this study compared twins to singleton children. A large group of twins (n = 9,909) were included who were compared to their related non-twin siblings (n = 1,534) aged 7–12 from the Netherlands Twin Register, thus creating optimal matching between twins and non-twins. Bullying and victimization were each based on a four-item scale filled out by their teachers. Prevalence rates for either bullying or victimization did not differ between twins and singletons. In total, in the past couple of months, 36% of children bullied peers moderately to severely, and 35% suffered moderately to severely from victimization. Boys were more likely to bully and were more prone to becoming a victim than girls. The most notable finding is that female twin pairs placed together in the same classroom did not bully more often, but were victimized less often, thus pointing to a protective effect of having a close companion in the classroom.
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.
With the desire to assess genetic variation across the lifespan in large-scale collaborative projects, one question is whether inference of copy number (CN) is sensitive to the source of material for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis (e.g., blood and buccal) and another question is whether CN is stable as individuals age. Here, we address these questions by applying Affymetrix 6.0 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) micro-arrays to 1,472 DNA samples from 710 individuals from the Netherlands Twin Register, including twin and non-twin individuals (372 with buccal and blood derived DNA and 388 with longitudinal data). Similar concordance for CN and genotype inference between samples from the same individual [or from the monozygotic (MZ) co-twins] was found for blood and buccal tissues. There was a small but statistically significant decrease in across-tissue concordance compared with concordance of samples from the same tissue type. No temporal effect was seen on CN variation from the 388 individuals sampled at two time points ranging from 1 to 12 years apart. The majority of our individuals were sampled at age younger than 20 years. Genotype concordance was very high (R2 > 99%) between co-twins from 43 MZ pairs. For 75 dizygotic (DZ) pairs, R2 was ≈65%. CN estimates were highly consistent between co-twins from MZ pairs for both deletions (R2 ≈ 90%) and duplications (R2 ≈ 86%). For DZ, these were similar for within-individual comparisons, but naturally lower between co-twins (R2 ≈ 50–60%). These results suggest that DNA from buccal samples perform as well as DNA from blood samples on the current generation of micro-array technologies.
In order to estimate the influence of genetic and environmental factors on ‘crying without a cause’ and ‘being easily upset’ in 2-year-old children, a large twin study was carried out. Prospective data were available for ~18,000 2-year-old twin pairs from the Netherlands Twin Register. A bivariate genetic analysis was performed using structural equation modeling in the Mx software package. The influence of maternal personality characteristics and demographic and lifestyle factors was tested to identify specific risk factors that may underlie the shared environment of twins. Furthermore, it was tested whether crying without a cause and being easily upset were predictive of later internalizing, externalizing and attention problems. Crying without a cause yielded a heritability estimate of 60% in boys and girls. For easily upset, the heritability was estimated at 43% in boys and 31% in girls. The variance explained by shared environment varied between 35% and 63%. The correlation between crying without a cause and easily upset (r = .36) was explained both by genetic and shared environmental factors. Birth cohort, gestational age, socioeconomic status, parental age, parental smoking behavior and alcohol use during pregnancy did not explain the shared environmental component. Neuroticism of the mother explained a small proportion of the additive genetic, but not of the shared environmental effects for easily upset. Crying without a cause and being easily upset at age 2 were predictive of internalizing, externalizing and attention problems at age 7, with effect sizes of .28–.42. A large influence of shared environmental factors on crying without a cause and easily upset was detected. Although these effects could be specific to these items, we could not explain them by personality characteristics of the mother or by demographic and lifestyle factors, and we recognize that these effects may reflect other maternal characteristics. A substantial influence of genetic factors was found for the two items, which are predictive of later behavioral problems.
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