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Previous genetic studies on hair morphology focused on the overall morphology of the hair using data collected by self-report or researcher observation. Here, we present the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of a micro-level quantitative measure of hair curvature. We compare these results to GWAS results obtained using a macro-level classification of observable hair curvature performed in the same sample of twins and siblings of European descent. Observational data were collected by trained observers, while quantitative data were acquired using an Optical Fibre Diameter Analyser (OFDA). The GWAS for both the observational and quantitative measures of hair curvature resulted in genome-wide significant signals at chromosome 1q21.3 close to the trichohyalin (TCHH) gene, previously shown to harbor variants associated with straight hair morphology in Europeans. All genetic variants reaching genome-wide significance for both GWAS (quantitative measure lead single-nucleotide polymorphism [SNP] rs12130862, p = 9.5 × 10–09; observational measure lead SNP rs11803731, p = 2.1 × 10–17) were in moderate to very high linkage disequilibrium (LD) with each other (minimum r2 = .45), indicating they represent the same genetic locus. Conditional analyses confirmed the presence of only one signal associated with each measure at this locus. Results from the quantitative measures reconfirmed the accuracy of observational measures.
Hair diameter and curvature are two characteristics of human scalp hair used in forensic contexts. While previous data show that subjective categorization of hair curvature is highly heritable, the heritability of objectively measured curvature and diameter, and variability of hair characteristics within each individual have not yet been studied. The present study measured hair diameter and curvature using an optical fiber diameter analyzer in a sample of 2,332 twins and siblings. Heritability was estimated using maximum likelihood structural equation modeling. Results show sex differences in the magnitude of genetic influence for mean diameter and curvature, with the vast majority of the variance accounted for by genetic effects in males (diameter = 86%, curvature = 53%) and females (diameter = 77%, curvature = 61%). The consistency of diameter (variance within an individual) was also highly heritable, but did not show sex limitation, with 68% of the variance accounted for by genetic factors. Moderate phenotypic correlations were seen between diameter and consistency (r = 0.3) but there was little correlation between diameter and curvature (r = -0.13). A bivariate Cholesky analysis was used to estimate the genetic and environmental correlations between hair diameter and consistency, yielding genetic correlations of rgF = 0.27 for females and rgM = 0.25 for males.
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