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This note reflects on my collaborations with Nick Martin and the GenEpi group over the past 20 years. Over the past two decades, our work together has focused on gene mapping and understanding the genetic architecture of a wide range of traits with particular foci on migraine and common baldness. Our migraine research has included latent class and twin analyses cumulating in genome-wide association analyses which had identified 44 (34 new) risk variants for migraine. Leveraging these results through polygenic risk score analyses identified subgroups of patients likely to respond to triptans (an acute migraine drug), providing the first step toward precision medicine in migraine [Kogelman et al. (2019) Neurology Genetics, 5, e364].
Familial factors have previously been implicated in the etiology of fatigue, of which a significant proportion is likely attributable to genetic influences. However, family studies have primarily focused on chronic fatigue syndrome, while univariate twin studies have investigated broader fatigue phenotypes. The results for similar fatigue phenotypes vary between studies, particularly with regard to sex-specific contributions to the heritability of the traits. Therefore, the current study aims to investigate the familiality and sex-specific effects of fatigue experienced over the past few weeks in an older Australian population of 660 monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs, 190 MZ singleton twins, 593 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs, and 365 DZ singleton twins. Higher risks for fatigue were observed in MZ compared to DZ co-twins of probands with fatigue. Univariate heritability analyses indicated fatigue has a significant genetic component, with a heritability (h2) estimate of 40%. Sex-specific effects did not significantly contribute to the heritability of fatigue, with similar estimates for males (h2 = 41%, 95% CI [18, 62]) and females (h2 = 40%, 95% CI [27, 52]). These results indicate that fatigue experienced over the past few weeks has a familial contribution, with additive genetic factors playing an important role in its etiology.
Depression and fatigue have previously been suggested to share an underlying genetic contribution. The present study aims to investigate and characterize the familiality and genetic relationship between depression and fatigue. The familiality of depression and fatigue was assessed by calculating relative risks, measured by the prevalence ratio, within 643 monozygotic (MZ) and 577 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs. Bivariate twin modeling was utilized to assess the magnitude of shared heritability between depression and fatigue. Finally, the relationship between depression and fatigue was investigated using the co-twin control method, to determine whether the association is explained by causal or non-causal models. We observed an increased risk of fatigue in co-twins of probands with depression and increased risk of depression in co-twins of probands with fatigue. Higher risks were observed in MZ compared to DZ twin pairs, and bivariate heritability analyses indicated significant genetic components for depression and fatigue, with heritability estimates of 48% and 41%, respectively. Importantly, a significant additive genetic correlation of 0.71 [95% CI = 0.51–0.92) and bivariate heritability of 21% [95% CI = 10–35%] was observed between depression and fatigue. Furthermore, results from the co-twin control method indicate a non-causal genetic relationship that likely explains the association between depression and fatigue. Notably, the contribution of shared genetic factors remained significant, independent of the overlapping symptoms, indicating that the relationship between co-occurring depression and fatigue is primarily due to shared genetic factors rather than overlapping symptomatology.
Migraine frequently co-occurs with depression. Using a large sample of Australian twin pairs, we aimed to characterize the extent to which shared genetic factors underlie these two disorders. Migraine was classified using three diagnostic measures, including self-reported migraine, the ID migraine™ screening tool, or migraine without aura (MO) and migraine with aura (MA) based on International Headache Society (IHS) diagnostic criteria. Major depressive disorder (MDD) and minor depressive disorder (MiDD) were classified using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria. Univariate and bivariate twin models, with and without sex-limitation, were constructed to estimate the univariate and bivariate variance components and genetic correlation for migraine and depression. The univariate heritability of broad migraine (self-reported, ID migraine, or IHS MO/MA) and broad depression (MiDD or MDD) was estimated at 56% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 53–60%) and 42% (95% CI: 37–46%), respectively. A significant additive genetic correlation (rG = 0.36, 95% CI: 0.29–0.43) and bivariate heritability (h2 = 5.5%, 95% CI: 3.6–7.8%) was observed between broad migraine and depression using the bivariate Cholesky model. Notably, both the bivariate h2 (13.3%, 95% CI: 7.0–24.5%) and rG (0.51, 95% CI: 0.37–0.69) estimates significantly increased when analyzing the more narrow clinically accepted diagnoses of IHS MO/MA and MDD. Our results indicate that for both broad and narrow definitions, the observed comorbidity between migraine and depression can be explained almost entirely by shared underlying genetically determined disease mechanisms.
Objectives: This research examined the familial aggregation of migraine, depression, and their co-occurrence.
Methods: Diagnoses of migraine and depression were determined in a sample of 5,319 Australian twins. Migraine was diagnosed by either self-report, the ID migraine™ Screener, or International Headache Society (IHS) criteria. Depression was defined by fulfilling either major depressive disorder (MDD) or minor depressive disorder (MiDD) based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria. The relative risks (RR) for migraine and depression were estimated in co-twins of twin probands reporting migraine or depression to evaluate their familial aggregation and co-occurrence.
Results: An increased RR of both migraine and depression in co-twins of probands with the same trait was observed, with significantly higher estimates within monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs compared to dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs. For cross-trait analysis, the RR for migraine in co-twins of probands reporting depression was 1.36 (95% CI: 1.24–1.48) in MZ pairs and 1.04 (95% CI: 0.95–1.14) in DZ pairs; and the RR for depression in co-twins of probands reporting migraine was 1.26 (95% CI: 1.14–1.38) in MZ pairs and 1.02 (95% CI: 0.94–1.11) in DZ pairs. The RR for strict IHS migraine in co-twins of probands reporting MDD was 2.23 (95% CI: 1.81–2.75) in MZ pairs and 1.55 (95% CI: 1.34–1.79) in DZ pairs; and the RR for MDD in co-twins of probands reporting IHS migraine was 1.35 (95% CI: 1.13–1.62) in MZ pairs and 1.06 (95% CI: 0.93–1.22) in DZ pairs.
Conclusions: We observed significant evidence for a genetic contribution to familial aggregation of migraine and depression. Our findings suggest a bi-directional association between migraine and depression, with an increased risk for depression in relatives of probands reporting migraine, and vice versa. However, the observed risk for migraine in relatives of probands reporting depression was considerably higher than the reverse. These results add further support to previous studies suggesting that patients with comorbid migraine and depression are genetically more similar to patients with only depression than patients with only migraine.
Endometriosis is a complex disease that affects 6–10% of women in their reproductive years and 20–50% of women with infertility. Genome-wide and candidate-gene association studies for endometriosis have identified 10 independent risk loci, and of these, nine (rs7521902, rs13394619, rs4141819, rs6542095, rs1519761, rs7739264, rs12700667, rs1537377, and rs10859871) are polymorphic in European populations. Here we investigate the replication of nine SNP loci in 998 laparoscopically and histologically confirmed endometriosis cases and 783 disease-free controls from Belgium. SNPs rs7521902, rs13394619, and rs6542095 show nominally significant (p < .05) associations with endometriosis, while the directions of effect for seven SNPs are consistent with the original reports. Association of rs6542095 at the IL1A locus with ‘All’ (p = .066) and ‘Grade_B’ (p = .01) endometriosis is noteworthy because this is the first successful replication in an independent population. Meta-analysis with the published results yields genome-wide significant evidence for rs7521902, rs13394619, rs6542095, rs12700667, rs7739264, and rs1537377. Notably, three coding variants in GREB1 (near rs13394619) and CDKN2B-AS1 (near rs1537377) also showed nominally significant associations with endometriosis. Overall, this study provides important replication in a uniquely characterized independent population, and indicates that the majority of the original genome-wide association findings are not due to chance alone.
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.
It is often debated whether migraine with aura (MA) and migraine without aura (MO) are etiologically distinct disorders. A previous study using latent class analysis (LCA) in Australian twins showed no evidence for separate subtypes of MO and MA. The aim of the present study was to replicate these results in a population of Dutch twins and their parents, siblings and partners (N = 10,144). Latent class analysis of International Headache Society (IHS)-based migraine symptoms resulted in the identification of 4 classes: a class of unaffected subjects (class 0), a mild form of nonmigrainous headache (class 1), a moderately severe type of migraine (class 2), typically without neurological symptoms or aura (8% reporting aura symptoms), and a severe type of migraine (class 3), typically with neurological symptoms, and aura symptoms in approximately half of the cases. Given the overlap of neurological symptoms and nonmutual exclusivity of aura symptoms, these results do not support the MO and MA subtypes as being etiologically distinct. The heritability in female twins of migraine based on LCA classification was estimated at .50 (95% confidence intervals [CI] .27 – .59), similar to IHS-based migraine diagnosis (h2 = .49, 95% CI .19–.57). However, using a dichotomous classification (affected–unaffected) decreased heritability for the IHS-based classification (h2 = .33, 95% CI .00–.60), but not the LCA-based classification (h2 = .51, 95% CI .23–.61). Importantly, use of the LCA-based classification increased the number of subjects classified as affected. The heritability of the screening question was similar to more detailed LCA and IHS classifications, suggesting that the screening procedure is an important determining factor in genetic studies of migraine.
Objective: As post-pregnancy weight retention in women is a risk factor for obesity later in life, we assessed the changes in magnitude of genetic and environmental variation in BMI due to parity in an Australian female sample, comprising 11,915 female twins and their sisters. Results: Total variance of BMI increased with parity, primarily driven by an increase in nonadditive genetic variance. This finding was of particular interest given Gutersohn et al's (2000) report of recessive association between post-partum weight retention and the 825T allele of the GNβ3 gene (rs5443) at 12p13.31. Hence, we attempted to replicate this association and test an additional three SNPs also located near or on GNβ3 (rs10744716 (upstream), rs5442 (exon 10), rs5446 (exon 11)) in a sample of 3131 females and 1693 males from 2585 twin families. No association was found between these SNPs among females, even when allowing for a genotype by parity effect. However, a significant association was observed among males for rs10744716 (χ22 = 10.22, p = 0.006; effect size = 0.47kg/m2), representing a novel association between a region upstream of GNβ3 and male BMI.
Numerous studies have reported association between variants in the dystrobrevin binding protein 1 (dysbindin) gene (DTNBP1) and schizophrenia. However, the pattern of results is complex and to date, no specific risk marker or haplotype has been consistently identified. The number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) tested in these studies has ranged from 5 to 20. We attempted to replicate previous findings by testing 16 SNPs in samples of 41 Australian pedigrees, 194 Australian cases and 180 controls, and 197 Indian pedigrees. No globally significant evidence for association was observed in any sample, despite power calculations indicating sufficient power to replicate several previous findings. Possible explanations for our results include sample differences in background linkage dis-equilibrium and/or risk allele effect size, the presence of multiple risk alleles upon different haplotypes, or the presence of a single risk allele upon multiple haplotypes. Some previous associations may also represent false positives. Examination of Caucasian HapMap phase II genotype data spanning the DTNBP1 region indicates upwards of 40 SNPs are required to satisfactorily assess all nonredundant variation within DTNBP1 and its potential regulatory regions for association with schizophrenia. More comprehensive studies in multiple samples will be required to determine whether specific DTNBP1 variants function as risk factors for schizophrenia.
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.
Migraine is a common neurovascular brain disorder that is manifested in recurrent episodes of disabling headache. The aim of the present study was to compare the prevalence and heritability of migraine across six of the countries that participate in GenomEUtwin project including a total number of 29,717 twin pairs. Migraine was assessed by questionnaires that differed between most countries. It was most prevalent in Danish and Dutch females (32% and 34%, respectively), whereas the lowest prevalence was found in the younger and older Finnish cohorts (13% and 10%, respectively). The estimated genetic variance (heritability) was significant and the same between sexes in all countries. Heritability ranged from 34% to 57%, with lowest estimates in Australia, and highest estimates in the older cohort of Finland, the Netherlands, and Denmark. There was some indication that part of the genetic variance was non-additive, but this was significant in Sweden only. In addition to genetic factors, environmental effects that are non-shared between members of a twin pair contributed to the liability of migraine. After migraine definitions are homogenized among the participating countries, the GenomEUtwin project will provide a powerful resource to identify the genes involved in migraine.
Genotyping in DNA pools reduces the cost and the time required to complete large genotyping projects. The aim of the present study was to evaluate pooling as part of a strategy for fine mapping in regions of significant linkage. Thirty-nine single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were analyzed in two genomic DNA pools of 384 individuals each and results compared with data after typing all individuals used in the pools. There were no significant differences using data from either 2 or 8 heterozygous individuals to correct frequency estimates for unequal allelic amplification. After correction, the mean difference between estimates from the genomic pool and individual allele frequencies was .033. A major limitation of the use of DNA pools is the time and effort required to carefully adjust the concentration of each individual DNA sample before mixing aliquots. Pools were also constructed by combining DNA after Multiple Displacement Amplification (MDA). The MDA pools gave similar results to pools constructed after careful DNA quantitation (mean difference from individual genotyping .040) and MDA provides a rapid method to generate pools suitable for some applications. Pools provide a rapid and cost-effective screen to eliminate SNPs that are not polymorphic in a test population and can detect minor allele frequencies as low as 1% in the pooled samples. With current levels of accuracy, pooling is best suited to an initial screen in the SNP validation process that can provide high-throughput comparisons between cases and controls to priori- tize SNPs for subsequent individual genotyping.
Accurate determination of same-sex twin zygosity is important for medical, scientific and personal reasons. Determination may be based upon questionnaire data, blood group, enzyme isoforms and fetal membrane examination, but assignment of zygosity must ultimately be confirmed by genotypic data. Here methods are reviewed for calculating average probabilities of correctly concluding a twin pair is monozygotic, given they share the same genotypes across all loci for commonly utilized multiplex short tandem repeat (STR) kits. Numerous tools enabling convenient and accurate zygosity probability calculation may be accessed via the ZygProb homepage at http://genepi.qimr.edu.au/general/daleN/ZygProb/
For zygosity diagnosis in the absence of genotypic data, or in the recruitment phase of a twin study where only single twins from same-sex pairs are being screened, or to provide a test for sample duplication leading to the false identification of a dizygotic pair as monozygotic, the appropriate analysis of respondents' answers to questions about zygosity is critical. Using data from a young adult Australian twin cohort (N = 2094 complete pairs and 519 singleton twins from same-sex pairs with complete responses to all zygosity items), we show that application of latent class analysis (LCA), fitting a 2-class model, yields results that show good concordance with traditional methods of zygosity diagnosis, but with certain important advantages. These include the ability, in many cases, to assign zygosity with specified probability on the basis of responses of a single informant (advantageous when one zygosity type is being oversampled); and the ability to quantify the probability of misassignment of zygosity, allowing prioritization of cases for genotyping as well as identification of cases of probable laboratory error. Out of 242 twins (from 121 like-sex pairs) where genotypic data were available for zygosity confirmation, only a single case was identified of incorrect zygosity assignment by the latent class algorithm. Zygosity assignment for that single case was identified by the LCA as uncertain (probability of being a monozygotic twin only 76%), and the co-twin's responses clearly identified the pair as dizygotic (probability of being dizygotic 100%). In the absence of genotypic data, or as a safeguard against sample duplication, application of LCA for zygosity assignment or confirmation is strongly recommended.
The effect of nonresponse on health and lifestyle measures has received extensive study, showing at most relatively modest effects. Nonresponse bias with respect to personality has been less thoroughly investigated. The present study uses data from responding individuals as a proxy for the missing data of their nonresponding family members to examine the presence of nonresponse bias for personality traits and disorders as well as health and lifestyle traits. We looked at the Big Five personality traits, borderline personality disorder (BPD) features, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Anger, and several measures of health (Body Mass Index, migraine) and lifestyle (smoking, alcohol use). In general, outcomes tend to be slightly more favorable for individuals from highly cooperative families compared to individuals from less cooperative families. The only significant difference was found for BPD features (p = .001). However, the absolute difference in mean scores is very small, less than 1 point for a scale ranging from 0 to 72. In conclusion, survey data on personality, health and lifestyle are relatively unbiased with respect to nonresponse.