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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.
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.
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.
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).
Physical activity is influenced by genetic factors whose expression may change with age. We employed an extension to the classical twin model that allows a modifier variable, age, to interact with the effects of the latent genetic and environmental factors. The model was applied to self-reported data from twins aged 19 to 50 from seven countries that collaborated in the GenomEUtwin project: Australia, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom. Results confirmed the importance of genetic influences on physical activity in all countries and showed an age-related decrease in heritability for 4 countries. In the other three countries age did not interact with heritability but those samples were smaller or had a more restricted age range. Effects of shared environment were absent, except in older Swedish participants. The study confirms the importance of taking age effects into account when exploring the genetic and environmental contribution to physical activity. It also suggests that the power of genome-wide association studies to identify the genetic variants contributing to physical activity may be larger in young adult cohorts.
Body mass index (BMI), a simple anthropometric measure, is the most frequently used measure of adiposity and has been instrumental in documenting the worldwide increase in the prevalence of obesity witnessed during the last decades. Although this increase in overweight and obesity is thought to be mainly due to environmental changes, i.e., sedentary lifestyles and high caloric diets, consistent evidence from twin studies demonstrates high heritability and the importance of genetic differences for normal variation in BMI. We analysed self-reported data on BMI from approximately 37,000 complete twin pairs (including opposite sex pairs) aged 20–29 and 30–39 from eight different twin registries participating in the GenomEUtwin project. Quantitative genetic analyses were conducted and sex differences were explored. Variation in BMI was greater for women than for men, and in both sexes was primarily explained by additive genetic variance in all countries. Sex differences in the variance components were consistently significant. Results from analyses of opposite sex pairs also showed evidence of sex-specific genetic effects suggesting there may be some differences between men and women in the genetic factors that influence variation in BMI. These results encourage the continued search for genes of importance to the body composition and the development of obesity. Furthermore, they suggest that strategies to identify predisposing genes may benefit from taking into account potential sex specific effects.
Background. Twin studies have concluded that there is a substantial genetic contribution to the
aetiology of eating disorders. The aim of the present study was to estimate the genetic contribution
to the aetiology of self-reported eating disorders in a sample of representative twins.
Method. A population cohort of 34142 young Danish twins was screened for eating disorders by
a mailed questionnaire.
Results. Concordance rates differed significantly across monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs for
broadly defined self-reported anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Heritability estimates of 0·48,
0·52 and 0·61 respectively were estimated for narrow and broad definitions of self-reported anorexia
nervosa and for self-reported bulimia nervosa.
Conclusions. There is a genetic contribution to the aetiology of self-reported eating disorders in the
general population. The relationship between self-reported and clinical eating disorder remains to
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