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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.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common mood disorder, with a heritability of around 34%. Molecular genetic studies made significant progress and identified genetic markers associated with the risk of MDD; however, progress is slowed down by substantial heterogeneity as MDD is assessed differently across international cohorts. Here, we used a standardized online approach to measure MDD in multiple cohorts in the Netherlands and evaluated whether this approach can be used in epidemiological and genetic association studies of depression.
Within the Biobank Netherlands Internet Collaboration (BIONIC) project, we collected MDD data in eight cohorts involving 31 936 participants, using the online Lifetime Depression Assessment Self-report (LIDAS), and estimated the prevalence of current and lifetime MDD in 22 623 unrelated individuals. In a large Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) twin-family dataset (n ≈ 18 000), we estimated the heritability of MDD, and the prediction of MDD in a subset (n = 4782) through Polygenic Risk Score (PRS).
Estimates of current and lifetime MDD prevalence were 6.7% and 18.1%, respectively, in line with population estimates based on validated psychiatric interviews. In the NTR heritability estimates were 0.34/0.30 (s.e. = 0.02/0.02) for current/lifetime MDD, respectively, showing that the LIDAS gives similar heritability rates for MDD as reported in the literature. The PRS predicted risk of MDD (OR 1.23, 95% CI 1.15–1.32, R2 = 1.47%).
By assessing MDD status in the Netherlands using the LIDAS instrument, we were able to confirm previously reported MDD prevalence and heritability estimates, which suggests that this instrument can be used in epidemiological and genetic association studies of depression.
Objective: The human gut microbiota has been demonstrated to be associated with a number of host phenotypes, including obesity and a number of obesity-associated phenotypes. This study is aimed at further understanding and describing the relationship between the gut microbiota and obesity-associated measurements obtained from human participants. Subjects/Methods: Here, we utilize genetically informative study designs, including a four-corners design (extremes of genetic risk for BMI and of observed BMI; N = 50) and the BMI monozygotic (MZ) discordant twin pair design (N = 30), in order to help delineate the role of host genetics and the gut microbiota in the development of obesity. Results: Our results highlight a negative association between BMI and alpha diversity of the gut microbiota. The low genetic risk/high BMI group of individuals had a lower gut microbiota alpha diversity when compared to the other three groups. Although the difference in alpha diversity between the lean and heavy groups of the BMI-discordant MZ twin design did not achieve significance, this difference was observed to be in the expected direction, with the heavier participants having a lower average alpha diversity. We have also identified nine OTUs observed to be associated with either a leaner or heavier phenotype, with enrichment for OTUs classified to the Ruminococcaceae and Oxalobacteraceae taxonomic families. Conclusion: Our study presents evidence of a relationship between BMI and alpha diversity of the gut microbiota. In addition to these findings, a number of OTUs were found to be significantly associated with host BMI. These findings may highlight separate subtypes of obesity, one driven by genetic factors, the other more heavily influenced by environmental factors.
Migraine and tension-type headache (TTH) are often viewed as distinct entities and defined as such in the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II) criteria, although there is also empirical evidence to suggest they may be etiologically similar. This study aims to investigate whether migraine and TTH are etiologically related conditions. First, we explored whether migraine and TTH were associated with the same environmental and lifestyle risk factors at the population level. Second, we examined comorbidity of migraine and TTH in a twin design. By comparing the associations in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs, we investigated whether the comorbidity can be explained by genetic factors that influence both conditions. Results indicated that migraine and TTH were largely associated with the same environmental and lifestyle factors, including younger age, female sex, higher body mass index, more depression, stress at home, and less participation in regular exercise, with consistently stronger effects for migraine than for TTH. Migraine in one twin was significantly associated with TTH in the other twin. A stronger cross-trait, cross-twin association in MZ than DZ twins suggested that this comorbidity may also be partly due to shared genetic factors, although the difference in associations was not significant. In conclusion, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that migraine and TTH have partly shared etiologies. For both treatment and research, it may be advisable not to make a rigid distinction, but to treat migraine and TTH as related conditions.
In 2009, the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) for major depressive disorder (MDD) highlighted an association with PCLO locus on chromosome 7, although not reaching genome-wide significance level. In the present study, we revisited the original GWAS after increasing the overall sample size and the number of interrogated SNPs. In an analysis comparing 1,942 cases with lifetime diagnosis of MDD and 4,565 controls, PCLO showed a genome-wide significant association with MDD at SNP (rs2715157, p = 2.91 × 10−8) and gene-based (p = 1.48 × 10−7) level. Our results confirm the potential role of the PCLO gene in MDD, which is worth further replication and functional studies.
The large body of literature on the association between blood pressure (BP) and cognitive functioning has yielded mixed results, possibly due to the presence of non-linear effects across age, or because BP affects specific brain areas differently, impacting more on some cognitive skills than on others. If a robust association was detected among BP and specific cognitive tasks, the causal nature of reported associations between BP and cognition could be investigated in twin data, which allow a test of alternative explanations, including genetic pleiotropy. The present study first examines the association between BP and cognition in a sample of 1,140 participants with an age range between 10 and 86 years. Linear and quadratic effects of systolic BP (SBP) and diastolic BP (DBP) on cognitive functioning were examined for 17 tests across five functions. Associations were corrected for effects of sex and linear and quadratic effects of age. Second, to test a causal model, data from 123 monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs were analyzed to test whether cognitive functioning of the twins with the higher BP was different from that of the co-twins with lower BP. Associations between BP and cognitive functioning were absent for the majority of the cognitive tests, with the exception of a lower speed of emotion identification and verbal reasoning in subjects with high diastolic BP. In the MZ twin pair analyses, no effects of BP on cognition were found. We conclude that in the population at large, BP level is not associated with cognitive functioning in a clinically meaningful way.
Persistent tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are major public health concerns worldwide. Both alcohol and nicotine dependence (AD, ND) are genetically influenced complex disorders that exhibit a high degree of comorbidity. To identify gene variants contributing to one or both of these addictions, we first conducted a pooling-based genomewide association study (GWAS) in an Australian population, using Illumina Infinium 1M arrays. Allele frequency differences were compared between pooled DNA from case and control groups for: (1) AD, 1224 cases and 1162 controls; (2) ND, 1273 cases and 1113 controls; and (3) comorbid AD and ND, 599 cases and 488 controls. Secondly, we carried out a GWAS in independent samples from the Netherlands for AD and for ND. Thirdly, we performed a meta-analysis of the 10, 000 most significant AD- and ND-related SNPs from the Australian and Dutch samples. In the Australian GWAS, one SNP achieved genomewide significance (p < 5 x 10-8) for ND (rs964170 in ARHGAPlOon chromosome 4, p = 4.43 x 10”8) and three others for comorbid AD/ND (rs7530302 near MARK1 on chromosome 1 (p = 1.90 x 10-9), rs1784300 near DDX6 on chromosome 11 (p = 2.60 x 10-9) and rs12882384 in KIAA1409 on chromosome 14 (p = 4.86 x 10-8)). None of the SNPs achieved genomewide significance in the Australian/Dutch meta-analysis, but a gene network diagram based on the top-results revealed overrepre-sentation of genes coding for ion-channels and cell adhesion molecules. Further studies will be requirec before the detailed causes of comorbidity between AC and ND are understood.
This study assessed to what extent genetic and environmental factors contributed to individual differences in adolescent sleep duration, and whether genetic and environmental contributions to sleep duration changed throughout adolescence. A twin-family design was used to gain insight into the genetic and environmental contributions to variation in sleep duration. The study sample consisted of 6,319 adolescent twins (44% males) and 1,359 non-twin siblings (44% males) in the age range of 12 to 20 years (mean age = 16.85, SD = 1.40). The participants self-reported usual sleep duration, which was categorized as less than 8 hours per night, 8–9 hours per night, and more than 9 hours per night. Results showed that the prevalence of shorter than optimum sleep duration, that is, less than 8 hours per night, was high, with the highest prevalence rates in later adolescence. The contribution of genetic and environmental factors to individual differences in sleep duration was dependent on age. Variation in sleep duration at the age of 12 years was accounted for by genetic (boys: 34%, girls: 36%), shared environmental (boys: 28%, girls: 45%), and non-shared environmental factors (boys: 38%, girls: 19%). At the age of 20 years, the role of genetic (boys: 47%, girls: 33%) and non-shared environmental factors (boys: 53%, girls: 67%) was more pronounced. It can be concluded from the results that individual differences in sleep duration were accounted for by genetic and non-shared environmental factors throughout adolescence, whereas shared environmental factors account for a substantial part of variation during early adolescence only.
In this study we examined the genetic architecture of variation in the pro-inflammatory state, using an extended twin-family design. Within the Netherlands Twin Register Biobank, fasting Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF-α), Interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-Reactive Protein (CRP), and fibrinogen levels were available for 3,534 twins, 1,568 of their non-twin siblings, and 2,227 parents from 3,095 families. Heritability analyses took into account the effects of current and recent illness, anti-inflammatory medication, female sex hormone status, age, sex, body mass index, smoking status, month of data collection, and batch processing. Moderate broad-sense heritability was found for all inflammatory parameters (39%, 21%, 45%, and 46% for TNF-α, IL-6, CRP and fibrinogen, respectively). For all parameters, the remaining variance was explained by unique environmental influences and not by environment shared by family members. There was no resemblance between spouses for any of the inflammatory parameters, except for fibrinogen. Also, there was no evidence for twin-specific effects. A considerable part of genetic variation was explained by non-additive genetic effects for TNF-α, CRP, and fibrinogen. For IL-6, all genetic variance was additive. This study may have implications for future genome-wide association studies by setting a clear numerical target for genome-wide screens that aim to find genetic variants regulating the levels of these pro-inflammatory markers.
We examined the genetic architecture of functional brain connectivity measures in resting state electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings. Previous studies in Dutch twins have suggested that genetic factors are a main source of variance in functional brain connectivity derived from EEG recordings. In addition, qualitative descriptors of the brain network derived from graph analysis — network clustering and average path length — are also heritable traits. Here we replicated previous findings for connectivity, quantified by the synchronization likelihood, and the graph theoretical parameters cluster coefficient and path length in an Australian sample of 16-year-old twins (879) and their siblings (93). Modeling of monozygotic and dizygotic twins and sibling resemblance indicated heritability estimates of the synchronization likelihood (27–74%) and cluster coefficient and path length in the alpha and theta band (40–44% and 23–40% respectively) and path length in the beta band frequency (41%). This corroborates synchronization likelihood and its graph theoretical derivatives cluster coefficient and path length as potential endophenotypes for behavioral traits and neurological disorders.
Over the past 25 years, the Adult Netherlands Twin Register (ANTR) has collected a wealth of information on physical and mental health, lifestyle, and personality in adolescents and adults. This article provides an overview of the sources of information available, the main research findings, and an outlook for the future. Between 1991 and 2012, longitudinal surveys were completed by twins, their parents, siblings, spouses, and offspring. Data are available for 33,957 participants, with most individuals having completed two or more surveys. Smaller projects provided in-depth phenotyping, including measurements of the autonomic nervous system, neurocognitive function, and brain imaging. For 46% of the ANTR participants, DNA samples are available and whole genome scans have been obtained in more than 11,000 individuals. These data have resulted in numerous studies on heritability, gene x environment interactions, and causality, as well as gene finding studies. In the future, these studies will continue with collection of additional phenotypes, such as metabolomic and telomere length data, and detailed genetic information provided by DNA and RNA sequencing. Record linkage to national registers will allow the study of morbidity and mortality, thus providing insight into the development of health, lifestyle, and behavior across the lifespan.
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.
Genome-wide association analysis on monozygotic twin-pairs offers a route to discovery of gene–environment interactions through testing for variability loci associated with sensitivity to individual environment/lifestyle. We present a genome-wide scan of loci associated with intra-pair differences in serum lipid and apolipoprotein levels. We report data for 1,720 monozygotic female twin-pairs from GenomEUtwin project with 2.5 million SNPs, imputed or genotyped, and measured serum lipid fractions for both twins. We found one locus associated with intra-pair differences in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, rs2483058 in an intron of SRGAP2, where twins carrying the C allele are more sensitive to environmental factors (P = 3.98 × 10−8). We followed up the association in further genotyped monozygotic twins (N = 1,261), which showed a moderate association for the variant (P = 0.200, same direction of an effect). In addition, we report a new association on the level of apolipoprotein A-II (P = 4.03 × 10−8).
The human electroencephalogram (EEG) consists of oscillations that reflect the summation of postsynaptic potentials at the dendritic tree of cortical neurons. The strength of the oscillations (EEG power) is a highly genetic trait that has been related to individual differences in many phenotypes, including intelligence and liability for psychopathology. Here, we investigated whether brain anatomy underlies these EEG power differences by correlating it to gray and white matter volumes (GMV, WMV), and additionally investigated whether this association can be attributed to genes or environmental factors. EEG was measured in a sample of 405 young adult twins and their siblings, and power in the theta (~4 Hz), alpha (~10 Hz), and beta (~20 Hz) frequency bands determined. A subset of 121 subjects were also scanned in a 1.5 T MRI scanner, and gray and white matter volumes defined as the total of cortical and subcortical volumes, excluding cerebellum. Both MRI-based volumes and EEG power spectra were highly heritable. GMV and WMV correlated .25 to .29 with EEG power for the slower oscillations (theta, alpha). Moreover, these phenotypic correlations largely reflected genetic covariation, irrespective of oscillation frequency and volume type. Genetic correlations (.31 < rA < .43) revealed that only moderate proportions of the heritable variance overlapped between MRI volumes and EEG power. The results suggest that MRI volumes and EEG power share genetic sources of variation, which may reflect such processes as myelination, synaptic density, and dendritic outgrowth.
One of the core behavioral features associated with obsessive compulsive symptomatology is the inability to inhibit thoughts and/or behaviors. Neuroimaging studies have indicated abnormalities in frontostriatal and dorsolateral prefrontal – anterior cingulate circuits during inhibitory control in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder compared with controls. In the present study, task performance and brain activation during Stroop color-word and Flanker interference were compared within monozygotic twin pairs discordant for obsessive compulsive symptoms and between groups of pairs scoring very low or very high on obsessive compulsive symptoms, in order to examine the differential impact of non-shared environmental versus genetic risk factors for obsessive compulsive symptomatology on inhibitory control related functional brain activation. Although performance was intact, brain activation during inhibition of distracting information differed between obsessive compulsive symptom high-scoring compared to low-scoring subjects. Regions affected in the discordant group (e.g., temporal and anterior cingulate gyrus) were partly different from those observed to be affected in the concordant groups (e.g., parietal gyrus and thalamus). A robust increase in dorsolateral prefrontal activity during response interference was observed in both the high-scoring twins of the discordant sample and the high-scoring twins of the concordant sample, marking this structure as a possible key region for disturbances in inhibitory control in obsessive compulsive disorder.
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.
Through its ability to induce the enhanced release and production of cytokines, amyloid-β is responsible for the chronic inflammatory response that contributes to Alzheimer's disease (AD). Determining whether the response of monocytes to amyloid-β stimulation is under genetic control may help understand the basis of why some people are more prone to develop neuronal degeneration than others. In the current study we investigated the heritability of the cytokine (IL-10, IL-6, IL-1β, IL-1ra, TNF-[.alpha]) production capacity upon ex vivo stimulation with amyloid-β in whole blood samples of 222 twins and 85 singleton siblings from 139 extended twin families. It was found that individual differences in amyloid-β-induced cytokine production capacity are to a large extent of genetic origin, with heritability estimates ranging from 55% (IL-1β) to 68% (IL-6). We conclude that genes influencing amyloid-β-induced cytokine response may provide clues to the progression of AD pathology.
Association studies, comparing elite athletes with sedentary controls, have reported a number of genes that may be related to athlete status. The present study reports the first genome wide linkage scan for athlete status. Subjects were 4488 adult female twins from the TwinsUK Adult Twin Registry (793 monozygotic [MZ] and 1000 dizygotic [DZ] complete twin pairs, and single twins). Athlete status was measured by asking the twins whether they had ever competed in sports and what was the highest level obtained. Twins who had competed at the county or national level were considered elite athletes. Using structural equation modeling in Mx, the heritability of athlete status was estimated at 66%. Seven hundred DZ twin pairs that were successfully genotyped for 1946 markers (736 microsatellites and 1210 SNPs) were included in the linkage analysis. Identical-by-descent probabilities were estimated in Merlin for a 1 cM grid, taking into account the linkage disequilibrium of correlated SNPs. The linkage scan was carried out in Mx using the -approach. Suggestive linkages were found on chromosomes 3q22-q24 and 4q31-q34. Both areas converge with findings from previous studies using exercise phenotypes. The peak on 3q22-q24 was found at the SLC9A9 gene. The region 4q31-q34 overlaps with the region for which suggestive linkages were found in two previous linkage studies for physical fitness (FABP2 gene; Bouchard et al., 2000) and physical activity (UCP1 gene; Simonen et al., 2003). Future association studies should further clarify the possible role of these genes in athlete status.
In Australian twins participating in three different studies (1979–1996), the contribution of genetic and environmental influences to variation in resting systolic (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was studied. The sample consisted of 368 monozygotic and 335 dizygotic twin pairs with measurements for both individuals. Blood pressure measurements in two studies were available for 115 complete twin pairs, and 49 twin pairs had measurements in three studies. This allowed assessment of blood pressure tracking over an average period of 12 years in the age range of 23 to 45 years. Multivariate analyses showed significant heritability (h2) of blood pressure in all studies (SBP h2 = 19%–56%, DBP h2 = 37%–52%). In addition, the analyses showed that the blood pressure tracking was explained by the same set of genetic factors. These results replicate an earlier finding in Dutch twins that also showed stability of the contribution of genetic factors to blood pressure tracking.